(NEW YORK) — New Mexico is expanding a program that waives the cost of child care, an initiative that could make child care free for many families in the southwestern state.

The announcement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last Thursday said the state’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department estimates that over 30,000 more families will be able to take advantage of New Mexico’s Childcare Assistance Program starting this May, doubling the number of families who were already participating.

“Beginning May 1, 2022, all families enrolled in the state’s Childcare Assistance Program will no longer owe copays for child care services, making child care cost-free,” the announcement said.

The New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department announcement notes that the expansion will run until June 30, 2023.

Families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level, or $111,000 for a family of four, qualify to have their child care copayments waived. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determines poverty levels, and for 2022, the federal department set the poverty guideline in the District of Columbia and the 48 contiguous states as $27,750 for a family of four.

The cost of child care in the U.S. is a significant burden for American families.

New survey data from 2019 from the HHS’s Administration for Children and Families shows that many families spend anywhere between 10% to 20% of their household budget on child care, including early child education. Amid the pandemic, many women also stopped working to take care of their kids at home, leading to a slowdown of employees returning to the national workforce.

In New Mexico specifically, think tank Economic Policy Institute estimates that the average cost of child care is approximately $8,617 a year.

Child care workers are also in short supply, and along with the expansion of copay waivers for families, New Mexico will also provide stipends to students who are pursuing higher education in early education.

Eligible students can apply for $2,000 each semester to help pay for their schooling at a New Mexico college or university.

The state is also pledging $10 million in grants to child care establishments to build or expand child care centers in underserved communities.

New Mexicans who are interested in joining the Childcare Assistance Program can visit the state’s “Am I Eligible?” site for more information.

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