N.M. Child Care Workers, Many Excluded From Unemployment And Stimulus Money, Win Hazard Pay

May 4, 2020

On May 1, New Mexico became the second state to establish hazard pay specifically for child care workers, OLÉ New Mexico announced. The Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) had already committed to providing subsidies to child care centers, including a monthly per-child bonus for those that remain open through the pandemic. But before the hazard pay was announced, some child care workers said they were still having their hours cut, and that without access to unemployment benefits or federal stimulus money, they’re struggling to care for their own families. 

Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky of the Early Childhood Education & Care Department (ECECD) announced on Friday that child care workers will receive direct payments of $700 a month, in addition to the regular wages from their employer. Full-time child care workers will be eligible for pay retroactively for April to June, and part-time workers will be eligible for $350 per month.

To keep child care options available for health care staff and other essential employees during the coronavirus shutdown, CYFD decided to continue subsidy payments to child care centers even if they temporarily closed, and to provide a $250 monthly bonus per child to licensed centers that stay open. However, these payments don’t necessarily result in consistent wages for workers. 

There are more than 1500 child care centers in New Mexico, employing thousands of workers. Most are women.

The child care center that Elvia Taborda works at is still getting CYFD funds, she said, yet her hours were cut in half.  At $10 an hour, she’s taking home less than $700 a month, before the ECECD announcement about hazard pay.

“I think it’s too little, because with two kids, to pay rent and all the bills, and unfortunately there are times we pay all that don’t have enough to buy food. It’s very little I don’t want to go into debt,” said Taborda in Spanish.

Taborda said there are normally 45 children at her center, but as of April 30, it was down to about 16. She said she and her co-workers are working every other week, and her child care center took out a loan to help pay their wages. She said she and her coworkers accepted the cut in hours because they aren’t eligible for unemployment or stimulus money. Because she works so closely with the children, Taborda said she is afraid of contracting COVID-19 and passing it on to her own family.

Child care workers KUNM interviewed said they change out of their clothes before entering their homes and shower before coming into contact with their families -- the same precautions many healthcare workers take --  yet they don’t have regular access to protective gear or paid sick leave.

None of the five child care workers KUNM spoke with had access to health insurance or unemployment benefits. 

Candelaria Pacheco has worked in various child care centers for 12 years. In March, she opened her own registered center in her home. She cares for seven children of doctors and nurses who work in Albuquerque hospitals, often working 22 hour days as some parents work days and others are on night shifts. 

“There are times that I feel at risk that I will contract the virus because their parents work directly at the hospital,” said Pacheco in Spanish. She has two teenage children of her own. Candelaria said she anticipates being paid the $250 per child per month base rate from the CYFD emergency subsidies for essential workers, but since her center is registered but not licensed, she is not eligible for the additional $250 per child bonus from CYFD. 

“We want the state to pay the child care workers, and that it is a direct payment to each woman, not to the owners of the centers because the owners only look out for themselves and they keep the money, they don’t give anything to the women. And now there are workers who can’t even pay their rent,” said Pacheco in Spanish.

CYFD currently administers funds to child care centers, but starting July 1, the ECECD will take over those services. Matt Beiber, communications director for the Early Childhood Department, said in an interview in late April that federal stimulus funds are being used to centers don’t permanently close. He said he hopes directors are passing that money on to workers, but since they’re not required to report how funds are spent, there’s no guarantee. 

Beiber admitted child care workers deserve more compensation.

“Early childhood educators are not typically well paid are often underinsured or uninsured and as a result of that are quite vulnerable and that’s all the more true now.” Bieber said.

KUNM reached out to the Department of Workforce Solutions to ask what they’re doing to help child care workers during this time, and was directed back to CYFD.

On Friday, May 1, OLÉ New Mexico announced that their advocacy about hazard pay had led to the state’s announcement of $700 a month payments directly to workers. 

"This is justice for early educators!" wrote Elvia Taborda, who worked with OLÉ to push for hazard pay, in a press release May 1. "We want to thank Governor Lujan Grisham and Secretary Groginsky for recognizing that the heart of our economy is the workers who risk their lives every day to educate and care for the state's children."

Marian Mendez-Cera, community organizer with El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, said it’s wrong that undocumented workers can’t access unemployment benefits if they are laid off, even though they pay taxes just like other workers.

“It’s amazing how the government was creative about ensuring that undocumented folks pay taxes,” Mendez-Cera said. “They created the I-10 in order for undocumented folks to be able to pay taxes.”

In mid-March, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the state will pay healthcare premiums of child care workers and their family members diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Victoria Gomez, a community organizer with OLÉ New Mexico says that’s not enough.

“I was talking to a teacher who was like, ‘well what if I die? That doesn’t help me at all. I’m still exposing myself and still putting myself at a huge risk, for not that much pay to begin with,’” said Gomez.

Taborda points out that -- pandemic or not -- child care workers have always been essential.  

“We are shaping the lives of these children, so when they get to kindergarten, they have the skills they need with a strong base,” said Taborda in Spanish. “We aren’t getting paid like we should be, but we are doing our work well.”

KUNM reached out to several child care centers in Albuquerque to understand how they’re operating during the crisis, but didn’t get a reply.