Local Head Starts Begin Feeling the Cuts

by Noah Dzuba

For poor children generally, and poor migrant children especially, the federal sequestration is going to mean compromised services through Head Start and Migrant Head Start, two programs that provide education and health services to children from birth to age five.

Child welfare providers in two California counties with widely different child populations are bracing for the impending cuts.

Sequestration will result in a 5.1 percent decrease in federal grants to Head Start, a program that was already only able to serve about half of the families who were eligible for and seeking its preschool and parental assistance services.

In order to be eligible, a family must live below the federal poverty line, meaning that a family of two, consisting of one parent and one child, cannot earn more than $15,130 per year and a family of four can earn no more than $23,050.

Kay Wernert, program director for Marin County California’s Head Start program, has 414 filled slots in her Head Start and Early Head Start programs and 395 families are on their waiting lists.

“At a time when the conversation should be,  ‘How do we reach even more children and reduce the opportunity gap?’ Instead we are going backwards,” said Wernert.

Wernert estimates that the sequestration cuts will require her to eliminate 21 slots from their programs. “It also means that at least four staff members will lose their jobs, having [a] domino effect on the community.”

Marin won’t feel those cuts until August, when Marin Head Start has its federal grant renewed. In rural Stanislaus County, the impacts may be more immediate, as its Migrant Head Start grant was renewed on March 1st, the same day that the sequestration cuts first took effect.

Stanislaus is a much larger county than Marin, and its Migrant Head Start program alone has a funded enrollment of over 3,000 families.

Janet Orvis-Cook, executive director of Stanislaus County Child and Family Services, says that even with the grant renewal date having passed, her county still does not fully know what its budget cuts will look like.

“Last week we were told that we would be notified with our revised funding mark, but we still have not heard anything yet,” she said. “I can do the math: There are going to be 154 families this year not getting services through our Migrant Head Start program and effective September 1, 107 more not getting services through Head Start and Early Head Start.”

Noah Dzuba is a graduate student focused on child and family services at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. He wrote this piece as part of his coursework for the Journalism for Social Change class offered at the Goldman School of Public Policy.

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