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Federal cuts hit region Head Start programs
Families left looking for other options
Shameka Harrison and family, from left, Terrion, 9, Malicah, 12, and Cheslen, 2. - photo by NAT GURLEY

When federal spending cuts went into effect in March, lawmakers and agency leaders warned they may leave Americans with limited or eliminated services.

Some younger Americans are feeling that pressure.

Ninth District Opportunity, serving a 20-county area including Hall, has lost 336 slots in its Head Start programs, which provide education to preschool children, with some Early Head Start programs open to infants and toddlers. Participants must meet a certain income guideline to be eligible.

Gainesville resident Shameka Harrison was one of those parents who has had to scramble to find a day care option for her daughter, Cheslen.

“I probably work about 20 hours a week, part time,” she said. “And I’m getting my bachelor’s degree in human services.

“So, the (Head Start) program has been great for me because it allows me as a single mom to have my child somewhere where I know she’s learning.”

Harrison is now paying around $80 weekly for a home-based day care service. She said that’s a lot of money for someone working part time.

She noted there are other programs to help with child care, but she does not meet the requirements.

Head Start programs across the country are experiencing cuts and, in some cases, shutting down.

“We’ve had to reduce hours for many of our staff,” said Kay Laws, NDO director. “We’ve also lost approximately 40 staff members.”

Those numbers include the entire region; Laws said she did not have the numbers broken down by county.

“In addition to those cuts, of course, we’re having to cut back on needed supplies and other services,” Laws said.

Also, any Head Start programs that had previously stayed open over the summer are closed over those months this year.

“There wasn’t enough funds to begin with to serve all the children who need the service,” Laws said. Currently, the funding level is at $19.8 million annually. Laws said that serves just more than 2,100 children and their families.

Juanita Yancey, executive officer of the Georgia Head Start Association, said the budget cuts would look differently across the state.

“There are 31 federal Head Start grantees across the state of Georgia, and each of them are trying to make these cuts,” she said. “With some of these grants, it really depends on when these cuts are going to impact them because some of them get their grants at different times.”

Being funded on an annual basis leaves Laws nervous about what the future budget may hold.

“I’m anticipating, like most of the country, things are going to get tighter,” she said. “We’ll just look at partnering with state and local agencies as much as possible, hopefully to avoid any further cuts in enrollment. If the monetary cuts are substantial, that would probably be our only resource.”

Harrison said it doesn’t make sense to her why the federal government would include Head Start in its budget cuts while it would fund other agencies.

“It’s so disappointing,” she said. “Education is just as important.”

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