by Amber Wallin, Albuquerque Journal
Dec. 27, 2019

We were dismayed with the short-sightedness of the Journal’s (Dec. 19) editorial on the state’s child care assistance program. While we agree that the state should be responsible with all program spending, we disagree about how much value the child care assistance program brings to New Mexico families.

Though I don’t receive child care assistance, as a parent of two young children, I can tell you that my children’s health and well-being is the most important thing to me. I can also tell you that high-quality child care is incredibly expensive – costing more than college tuition in New Mexico. The Journal talked about the upsides of the state’s child care assistance program – the improvements in child health and development, the parental peace of mind that comes from knowing your kids are safe while you work, and the $3,500 it puts into the pockets of hard-working New Mexico families – as if they weren’t huge, important things for kids and families in the state. For a family of three at 150% of the federal poverty level, $3,500 is nearly 10% of their income. That is not an inconsequential amount when every penny you earn goes toward putting a roof over your head and food on the table.

The real problem is that child care assistance in New Mexico has not been funded as much more than a work support program for parents. We’ve never made the investments that would be needed in order to address the multi-dimensional needs of kids in our state and see the increases in school readiness that we know the program can provide. It’s like setting aside only enough money to buy a subcompact and then complaining that it’s not as roomy as an SUV.

We’re facing a crisis in child well-being – our kids are ranked near worst in the nation on too many measures, including child abuse, and we’re near worst in poverty among parents who work full-time. Programs like child care assistance that help working families afford a safe, nurturing place for their kids to grow and learn are the exact services we should be prioritizing. Yet, we pay many of our early childhood caregivers and teachers poverty-level wages, child care centers struggle to get by and sometimes have to cut corners just so they don’t have to kick out kids whose families can’t afford to pay tuition and, meanwhile, we have moms and dads working overtime shifts just to be able to afford the basics.

Something has to change. Nickel and diming the programs that matter most to our kids drove us to 50th in child well-being over the past decade. If we really want to help our working families and get the most out of one of the most important programs that the state provides, then we need to invest in it what we want to get out of it.

It’s time to be bold on behalf of New Mexico kids and families, and investing in New Mexico’s child care assistance program, in the health and well-being benefits it provides for New Mexico kids, and in the significant financial relief it provides for New Mexico families is one of the smartest investments we can make in our state’s future success.

Amber Wallin, MPA, is Deputy Director or NM Voices for Children