(Update: Adding video, comments from DELC, Family Forward, NeighborImpact)
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) - The Oregon Department of Early Learning and Care announced this week they will pause Employment Related Day Care program enrollment and open a waitlist in early November, due to increased demand and limited funding. And that's raising concern among local officials involved in the ongoing struggle to meet child care needs.
The state agency said families who believe they are eligible for ERDC should apply by November 3 at 11:59 p.m. Families currently receiving ERDC support will continue to receive benefits after November 3.
"Our families deserve better, our communities deserve better, our employers deserve better." Candice Vickers, executive director of Family Forward, said Friday.
Child care programs like Family Forward said they warned legislators about the lack of funding and impacts it would have.
"What needs to happen is right now -- they need to come together and use every single tool in their toolbox to make sure that this is funded and that families have access to this extremely vital resource," Vickers said.
In Central Oregon, NeighborImpact is trying to close those child care gaps before this pause creates bigger problems.
"Because services have been so utilized and accessible to persons, which is a really positive thing, persons are using services, and so funding is limited," said Hannah Kuehl, associate director of grants management for NeighborImpact.
Enrollment in the ERDC program, which is funded by both federal and state investments, has grown by 52% in the 2021-2023 biennium due to expansions in family eligibility and program improvements.
"We really work to fix some of the access issues to child care subsidies," Vickers said. "And now, without funding it, we're essentially saying to families, 'We're sorry -- we don't know how to help you.'"
Enrollment has grown 22% in the last two months alone due to changes that include lower copays, enrollment-based pay for child care providers, opening the program to non-working students, extending eligibility timeframes and minimizing the number of reasons a family may lose their ERDC benefits.
Families with specific needs outlined in an Oregon rule can still enroll in ERDC after the waitlist is implemented:
● Families recently or currently receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Temporary Assistance for Domestic Violence Survivors (TA-DVS) will still be able to enroll in ERDC.
● Families will also bypass the waitlist if they are referred by the Child Welfare
division of the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) or are reapplying
for ERDC within two months of benefits ending.
● Families currently receiving ERDC will continue to receive benefits after
“Every family should have access to affordable child care options, and there has been a lot of great work done to expand eligibility for this important program,” Governor Tina Kotek said. “This means we need more state funding for ERDC – at least $50 million more this biennium – if we’re going to meet the demand for child care assistance across the state. There have been productive conversations with legislative leaders about addressing the funding gap in the next session.”
“The Employment Related Day Care program is working better for families, which is a really good thing,” said Alyssa Chatterjee, director of DELC, the new state agency that began overseeing ERDC on July 1.
“The successful expansion and improvement of the program has demonstrated what families already know: Oregonians depend on child care to keep our economy running. When we invest in early education and child care, we invest in families and our current workforce while simultaneously investing in our collective future. We are working closely with the Legislature to identify more funding and are focused on connecting families to other available programs in the meantime.”
ERDC currently supports about 14,000 families across the state in paying for child care. Families earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level (e.g., up to $5,000 per month for a family of four) pay a small copay based on income and can enroll with a provider that accepts ERDC.
Once more funding becomes available and enrollment drops to a sustainable level, families will be selected from the waitlist based on the date they were added. The first to apply will be the first selected for eligibility screening and potential enrollment.
Once a family is selected from the waitlist, they will receive a notice inviting them to apply for ERDC within 45 days. The waitlist is likely to be in place for at least 18 months, depending on the level of investment and the rate at which families leave the program.
DELC will provide regular updates to families added to the waitlist.
Families who need support paying for child care after November 3, 2023 are encouraged to reach out to 211 or their local Early Learning Hub to apply for other affordable, high-quality child care and early learning programs through DELC, such as Preschool Promise and Oregon Prenatal to Kindergarten. Families with specific needs listed above can still enroll after November 3, 2023 and will not be affected by the waitlist. Go to Oregon.gov/DELC/ERDC to learn more.
About the Oregon Department of Early Learning and Care
The Department of Early Learning and Care’s mission is to foster coordinated, culturally appropriate, and family-centered services that recognize and respect the strengths and needs of all children, families, and early learning and care professionals. More information about DELC is available at Oregon.gov/DELC You can also connect with DELC on Facebook or sign up for news alerts and updates.