Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

Most residents in NM are now eligible for a year of free child care. Those families earning less than $111,000 are eligible for the state’s “free, no more copay, no waiting” childcare program. New Mexico is the first state in the nation to offer no-cost child care support for this broad base of income levels.

“This is the road to a universal childcare system,” Governor Lujan Grisham said about the pilot program, which began May 1 and lasts through June 2023. It is estimated that the program will make child care free for approximately 30,000 families.

Families across the state still recovering financially from the pandemic are being hit hard by rising prices of almost everything. The program comes at a time when families are in real need of any economic relief. The median household income in New Mexico is $51,243 and child care can take a big chunk of it. Infant care in New Mexico costs an average of $718 per month, while care for a four-year-old child costs an average of $634 every month.

“It is hard to overstate the impacts of ensuring that all families can afford great child care,” said Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.

While some states have expanded eligibility and made child care more affordable during the pandemic with the American Rescue Plan Act dollars, none have gone as far as New Mexico in their commitments to child care.

The Chief of Policy and Practice for Child Care Aware of America Mario Cardona called the announcement “the type of thing that we should be seeing across the country.”

New Mexico created a $300 million endowment for the Early Childhood Education and Care Fund permanent fund in early 2020. The fund draws on taxes from oil and natural gas production and is projected to be worth $4.3 billion by 2025.

“This dedicated fund combined with federal dollars has allowed us to think big now,” said Elizabeth Groginsky, NM Cabinet secretary for early-childhood education.

The state will also spend $10 million in discretionary funds from the American Rescue Plan to expand the state’s supply of daycare centers. Business owners who either want to expand existing child-care centers or create new ones can apply for state grants for funding.

It only takes a few minutes to find out if you’re eligible for child care in New Mexico. To speak with a Family Specialist call (800)-691-9067 to connect with someone who can help you review your childcare options and walk you through the process of applying.