Without federal day care funding, Erika Noice of Sweet Home knows life would be much harder.
Noice, 28, is a single mother of boys ages 4 and 5. She manages the Subway in Sweet Home, and if she didn’t have the help of the Employment Related Day Care funds she receives, her world would change drastically.
“Without that funding I would have to leave my full-time job,” Noice said. “It’s a great service to people in my situation.”
Thanks to a budget agreement reached Friday between the governor and the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, that funding remains intact.
But the program will be able to help fewer people than was originally promised in the 2011-13 state budget.
The legislature had agreed to expand ERDC’s caseload gradually over two years, reaching 10,000 cases per month by 2013. But before the end of 2011, Gov. John Kitzhaber put a freeze on enrollments.
Friday’s action means that ERDC will be funded at 8,500 cases with money from the general fund and the Federal Child Care and Development Fund. In addition, client copayments will increase 10 percent, an average of $5 to $10 a month for subsidized families.
“That’s not what I wanted to hear but I will settle for it,” Noice said Friday afternoon. “I would rather have to find the money for the copay than have no funding at all.”
ERDC, which is mostly federally funded, subsidizes families whose income is below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, providing financial help with child care.
Linn County receives $96,000 a month, which supports 439 children in the ERDC program, the DHS says.
According to Christy Sinatra of DHS, the governor’s freeze was part of a statewide strategy to provide lawmakers more flexibility for balancing the budget during this month’s legislative session.
ERDC has not been able to add to its caseload since the freeze. As of Jan. 31, that caseload stood at 7,613, which accounts for more than 12,000 children.
Stacy Michaelson of Children First for Oregon, a non-profit advocating for families and children’s safety and health, said the number was not a surprise.
“It was the number we expected. It’s 1,500 fewer families,” she said. “It was agreed upon early in the debate as a compromise from both sides of the aisle.”
What it means is that money distributed to the program will be less than it was supposed to be, according to Michaelson.
Noice is glad she’s still among those who will receive help.
“My kids have been in day care since I moved here two years ago,” she said. “Without help there is no way I could afford to keep them there.”
Day care costs average more than $10,000 a year and have risen nearly 7 percent since 2004, according to Children First. It is an important financial boost to the county’s 178 active day care providers who work with ERDC children.
Anita Collins is one. She runs Collins Kids Child Care in Sweet Home, where Noice takes her boys.
“This threat of no funding keeps resurfacing,” said Collins, who has been a certified child care provider for 35 years. “We have six children here through the program.”
Collins said that brings in $30,000 a year to her business. She charges $3 an hour plus a $25 per month pre-school materials fee.
“ERDC impacts my business a great deal,” she said.
Participating families pay a copay that averages $163 a month, according to DHS statistics. The minimum copay is $25.
“I know the people whose children I care for are not slackers,” Collins said. “They are hard-working parents.”
Along with her full-time job, Noice is continuing her education online, studying early childhood education. She was also active in the campaign to keep funding intact for ERDC.
“It’s an important program. It helps the economy by allowing people to keep working,” she said. “I’ve written letters in support.”
Even with the limit of 8,500 cases, several hundred families will still be added to the current caseload. But ERDC has a waiting list established in August 2011 that has risen to nearly 3,000. Michaelson said it’s estimated that 100 families a week sign up for the list.
“An increase, even if it’s less than we had agreed upon, would allow us to see a portion come off the wait list,” she said.
Any selections from the list would be made randomly through a lottery. Those selected would be invited to apply to the program. All applicants will be verified for qualification.
At press time the budget was still in the hands of the budget committe chairs and had not been released to the public.
“It’s a needed program,” Noice said. “I work hard. It’s not a total handout.”