A new $2.2 million state-funded program will provide fully funded child care for 109 young children in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties this spring, intending to lift the burden of both low-income families and child care providers.

Children age 6 weeks to 3 years will be eligible for free child care under the program, called Baby Promise, according to a press release from NeighborImpact, one of three groups statewide that received funding from the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division for the program.

The slots will be reserved for families that earn 185 percent or less of the federally defined poverty level, which is currently $25,465 per year for a family of four with two children according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Child care has become a scarce resource in Central Oregon, where some facilities have waiting lists of at least 100, and the high cost — about $8,800 per year in Deschutes County, according to Oregon State University — is too expensive for some families. The lack of affordable and available child care has become such a problem that students at Central Oregon Community College have fought for on-campus day care, which the college has said isn’t currently possible due to the high cost of running a program.

Rachel Haakenson, NeighborImpact spokeswoman and marketing director, said the nonprofit will be working with existing day care facilities by increasing the providers’ staff levels, improving facilities, providing training and more. NeighborImpact hasn’t determined which or how many day care centers it will work with, Haakenson said, but she said it will likely be about 14 or 15 throughout Central Oregon.

Not only does the funding help low-income families, she said, but it will also ease the financial burdens that day care facilities face, as they often operate within extremely tight profit margins.

“Right now, they can barely afford to continue operating,” Haakenson said. “The prices they are setting are lower than what it actually costs to care for a child. By paying for those slots, we’re hoping they’ll be able to continue running child care facilities that are on the brink of closing.”

Although there isn’t any funding set aside specifically for helping current centers grow, Haakenson said one provider that NeighborImpact is considering partnering with has expressed interest in expanding its facility.

For now, Baby Promise is a one-year pilot program, but the state and NeighborImpact will be collecting data to see how the program affects Central Oregon and could potentially decide to extend it.

“We hope the results are positive and the pilot program continues in the future, and I think there’s a pretty good chance of it continuing,” Haakenson said.

The program will begin accepting applications between April and July, when more specific information about the program will be revealed. The other two organizations that received Baby Promise funding are Mount Hood Community College in Gresham and Southwestern Oregon Community College, with locations in Coos Bay and Curry County.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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