UNM Law Students and Alumna Partner to Improve the Lives of Thousands of New Mexico Families

November 24, 2020 - Melissa Lobato, Kateri West and Jessica Arreola

Headshot photos of Jessica Arreola and Kateri West

When Jessica Arreola and Kateri West sought to help fellow parents in Law School receive support for childcare, they had no idea they would be a part of changing a policy that would help thousands of families throughout New Mexico.

Arreola and West chartered a new student organization in 2020, Moms of Law. It is an organization whose focus is to support and encourage parents at the UNM School of Law. Moms of Law discovered that although resources exist for financial aid and scholarships to cover tuition, books, and fees, there weren’t resources that law students could access to alleviate childcare expenses.

“When I first started law school, I remember my husband and I were struggling financially,” said Arreola. “At the time, I had two small daughters. I went to CYFD to see if there were any options to help my family with childcare assistance. I was told that if I didn’t fulfil their work requirements, there was nothing they could do to help. I tried to explain that I could not meet those requirements while going to school full-time but they said that was my choice. The fact that they would not provide any kind of assistance or substitute class hours for work hours was baffling.”  

When the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) was created as a separate entity from CYFD in July 2020, one of the goals of the new department was to expand access to childcare. Arreola and West researched and found a CYFD policy was the barrier because it explicitly excluded graduate students from qualifying for childcare assistance due to the requirement to work a minimum of 20 hours per week. Further, because of an ABA rule, first-year law students are prohibited from working more than 15 hours per week.

West stated, “I listened to several of my classmates who were denied state funded childcare assistance when they transitioned to law school. We felt that 1Ls were especially at risk due to caps on work hours in the 1L year.”

Staff at the Law School reached out to UNM Law alumna Kate Girard (’07), General Counsel at the ECECD, regarding the policy. Kate and fellow alumnus and co-counsel Brendan Egan (’08) had flagged the very policy that Arreola and West identified as the issue just a few days before. Learning that the policy was having an adverse effect on graduate students prompted them and the ECECD to create an emergency amendment to expand childcare resources to graduate students and others experiencing difficulty due to COVID-19. The policy change will not only help families during the pandemic, but indefinitely.

The policy change will not only help UNM Law students, but medical students, nursing, and other graduate students around New Mexico who may not have a limit to work hours as first-year law students do, but whose studies made working 20 hours per week unfeasible.

Elizabeth Gutierrez noted, “I know this amendment will help so many families, like us, out there who are working to give their kids a better life. I am so grateful for our hardworking government and for the amazing women at UNM School of Law who made this happen.”