SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) –New Mexico’s child care department is sending millions to child care centers in an effort to keep them in business, awarding grants to pay for everything from salaries to rent.
The state Early Childhood Education and Care Department announced Wednesday $157 million in awards to 1,004 child care providers, from large centers to those who offer child care out of their homes.
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“New Mexico needs a strong and stable child care industry, not only to support the growth and development of our children but also to ensure that parents aren’t forced to drop out of the workforce because they can’t access child care,” said Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Many child care centers closed during the pandemic or reduced the number of children they served due to spacing requirements. Some are still closed or have yet to return to full capacity.
Checks start going out this month and could be a lifeline for child care centers struggling with inflation, rising rents, and increasingly competitive wages in the labor market.
A set of grants totaling $278,000 will allow the opening of a child care center in Grants County in southwestern New Mexico where some 35 families are on a waiting list.
“Probably 50% of them are teachers,” said Misty Pugmire, head of El Grito Inc., which is running the center for children aged 6 weeks to 3 years old. “We’ve got several parents down there that want to go to work, or can’t afford to go to work.”
She says the grant is one of 13 the organization relies on for child care centers around the county. It will pay for around a third of her labor costs for the first year it is open. Pugmire said that since the reduction in unemployment benefits, it’s been easier to find workers even without raising wages.
But some staff hired in September are still not on the job because of the slow pace of law enforcement background checks.
“There are still some of those that I have not received the checks back, because they’re backlogged,” Pugmire said.
The state didn’t immediately release plans for how it will verify that the money is spent on eligible costs. Pugmire said she was told at least 10% of grantees will be audited, so she’s recording “every penny” spent.
In July, the department increased child care subsidy eligibility to about $93,000 for a family of four.
This story has been updated to correct that the name of the state agency is the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, not Early Childcare and Education Department.