Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.

In early 2019 Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation into law that transformed early childhood education in New Mexico. She effectively established a more equitable state-funded early pre-K and pre-K program across the state, which was implemented in public schools and qualifying private schools. It also included funding for early intervention programs and early childhood special education. While it was a landmark decision for establishing competent care and education for early childhood, as well as easing the burden on parents who need to pay for childcare costs, those costs are still untenable for many parents.

COVID-19 has thrown every business and state agency for a loop, and emergency enactments have taken place to extend child care assistance to parents working from home or “teleworking.” What happens when those emergency provisions go away, but a parent’s workplace remains remote? These are questions that will arise as the pandemic continues and, hopefully, will be addressed by state lawmakers.

The state’s Children Youth and Family Department held a public hearing addressing those costly concerns on Jan. 6. Highlights among the regulation changes proposed are: removal of the income requirements for parents that determine whether or not their child qualifies for state-funded childcare, graduate student child care assistance, the ability to apply online for access to childcare services and elimination of bi-annual certification.

In early December the New Mexico Department of Early Childhood Education and Care  addressed these concerns and submitted a request of $401 million for their FY22 budget. “Spending on quality early education programs yields far higher savings for society over the long haul: fewer teen pregnancies, better graduation rates, lower health care and incarceration costs and overall improved well-being for children and families,” said Cabinet Secretary Groginsky.

The New Mexico Center for Poverty and Law has been advocating for these changes expanding access to child care for some time. In addition to the burdensome requirements, the center sees that, “The process is so burdensome and fruitless that most parents choose to simply forgo much-needed childcare along with employment and work opportunities.” If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that without affordable childcare, parents are not able to work—even if it might be from their own computer in their home.

Currently, the federal government recommends that families pay no more than 7 percent of their income on child care, so that is affordable. If the new changes proposed were enacted by CYFD,  New Mexico could eliminate co-pays for families below 100 percent of the federal poverty level and make them affordable for other families.