Faced with the loss of state help in paying for day care, mother-of-three Krystal Turcotte says she can see only one way to provide child care for her 5-year-old and 8-year-old while keeping her full-time job: asking her 17-year-old son, Cory, to give up varsity football this year to babysit his siblings after school.

Faced with the loss of state help in paying for day care, mother-of-three Krystal Turcotte says she can see only one way to provide child care for her 5-year-old and 8-year-old while keeping her full-time job: asking her 17-year-old son, Cory, to give up varsity football this year to babysit his siblings after school.

"He was not pleased," says Turcotte, a Gold Hill resident. "I've been crunching numbers, and nothing is working."

Turcotte is one of about 11,000 Oregon families who will lose a day care subsidy this December from the state for low-income, working families through the Oregon Department of Human Services' Employment Related Day Care, or ERDC, program.

DHS will reduce the program by about half as part of 9 percent cuts in spending ordered by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, saving the agency more than $17 million, said DHS spokesman Gene Evans. The cuts are effective Dec. 31.

About 22,000 low-income families across the state receive the subsidy, which ranges from $25 to several hundred dollars per month depending on family size and monthly income, with the average benefit being $527.84 per month, according to DHS. About half of those families will lose services.

To be eligible for the program, participants must be working and earn no more than $2,832 per month, or 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

By October, only families who meet those income guidelines and have been enrolled in the past 24 months in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, will be eligible for the program. In December, the families in ERDC who don't meet the new eligibility requirements will be dropped from the program.

TANF, a federal program, provides cash assistance for living expenses.

DHS had to slash $140 million from its annual budget, Evans says.

"We wanted to keep at least half of the ERDC program," he says. "We decided to support those who are making their way back into the work force, which was a tough choice. It puts families in the position of 'I can't afford to work and pay for day care.' "

For Turcotte, the ERDC cuts mean losing about $525 per month toward her monthly $800 child care bill. Turcotte earns about $2,000 per month at her full-time job as a customer service representative.

"I'm so stressed," Turcotte says. "My child care costs $800 per month. That's more than what I pay for housing. What gives? Housing or food?"

Evans says DHS can't restore the benefits that will be lost, but it sent letters out to notify those affected this month in order to give them as much time as possible to find other day care arrangements.

Kym Weathers, of 1 2 3 All About Me Day Care in Central Point, said most of her 48 clients will be affected by the cuts.

"We'll be out of business when this happens," Weathers says. "Some of our customers have said they are going to quit their jobs so they'll be eligible for cash assistance. I'm just blown away at this decision. At least those on ERDC are working — and they're losing their child care assistance — while people who are unemployed are still getting it."

Oregon recipients of TANF who are seeking jobs or doing job training still are eligible for subsidized child care through the federal program, Evans says.

Because DHS administers the TANF program, it may appear to the public as if unemployed families have been favored to receive subsidized child care while working families are losing services, but that's not the case, Evans says.

TANF is a federal program supported by federal funds, while ERDC is a state program, making it more vulnerable to recessionary purges.

"These (in ERDC) are families that are working and trying to do the right thing," Evans says. "Reductions like these do feel like a step backward, but with the recession and Oregon having 10.5 percent unemployment ... the agencies that depend on tax dollars are all in trouble and have to make different program choices with no easy way to make it."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.