"It was his first day of school and J.J. Vasquez wanted to look his best. The 3-year-old looked both like a scholar and an athlete ready for a day’s activities at the new early childhood day care center housed in the Joseph Montoya state building. He sported natty white sneakers, a purple-and-black T-shirt and short pants, and had his hair freshly groomed and parted. The name 'Vasquez' was imprinted on the back of his T-shirt, too." —Robert Nott
Vasquez was one of about 15 kids in a new program that provides childcare for state employees—it has already made an enormous difference for so many parents.
"Vasquez was one of about 15 history-making kids in a new program that provides day care services for state employees. It may be a small step in providing such services to New Mexicans — a recent Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau said more than 33 percent of New Mexico families could not access child care — but for parents like [Chantel] Larrañaga, the opportunity the program provides offers a sense of relief that allows her to concentrate on her job." —Robert Nott
It's also beneficial to kids because they get to socialize with their peers and learn educational basics.
"...coming out of the hemmed-in-days of home learning brought on by the pandemic, the new center gives [my] son and his peers — who range in age from 2 to 5 years old — a chance to learn social skills and the educational basics." —Chantel Larrañaga
The burden of not having access to sufficient care is not only an emotional one, but also a financial one—many parents have been forced to opt for unpaid leave if they want to be there for their kids, even though doing so often makes it harder for them to put food on the tabl.
"As employees in all sectors move back to the office, child care services can keep parents employed and ensure they do not have to cut their hours or pay, in the form of unpaid leave, to stay home to tend to their young kids, said Amber Wallin, deputy director of the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children." —Robert Nott
Furthermore, quite a few parents—especially mothers—quit their jobs altogether.
"...without reliable access to child care programs, many parents — mothers in particular — ended up dropping out of the workforce to care for their kids at home. Child care is 'one of the keys to supporting the workforce and economic recovery.'" —Chantel Larrañaga
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham says more can—and will— be done: the childcare for these state employees is not actually free, after all.
"The Montoya Building facility, operated by the private Little Explorers Child Development Center of Rio Rancho, is currently serving 44 children. Eight younger infants are at the state Tourism Department building on the Old Santa Fe Trail. The care is not free for those state employees. Eligible state workers pay $224 a week for services at the Montoya building, said Micah McCoy, spokesman for the Early Childhood Education & Care Department. He said financial aid is available for some families who apply for it. To date, five families have been approved for that aid. The eligibility level to be considered for the program is 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which comes out to $111,000 per year for a family of four, said Elizabeth Groginsky, secretary of the state Early Childhood Education & Care Department." —Robert Nott
Elizabeth Groginsky—the secretary of the state Early Childhood & Care Department—and Governor Grisham said they would continue to look for ways to fund similar programs in the state of New Mexico—the cost of renovating the offices into classrooms was no less than $234,000.
"The cost of renovating state offices into classrooms was about $234,000, coming from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds." —Micah McCoy