While recent news of the ongoing federal sequestration cuts focus on the furloughs of Air Traffic Controllers this week, which has led to longer lines at airports across the nation, little attention has been given to the cuts that will hit Head Start and reduce its operating capabilities in its next fiscal year.
Southern 7 Health Department and Head Start, headquartered in Ullin, provides services for more than 600 children between its Head Start and Early Head Start programs with 12 facilities throughout the seven counties it serves.
Head Start in Southern Illinois operates with a budget that is a little more than $4 million and is looking at cuts estimated at $260 to $270 thousand dollars in its next fiscal year.
“There’s no way to take that kind of cut without it affecting something,” Head Start administrator Angie Messmer said Thursday in Vienna.
In February the White House released an estimation of cuts for each state, which were to take effect if congress did not act by March 1, to alter the course of a series of automatic cuts called the sequester. March 1, came and went and the sequester became active with cuts that will play out over a period of time in which Illinois is expected to lose Head Start and Early Head Start funding for approximately 2,700 children.
“Individual programs like ours, we have the ability to look at what our budget is, what our budget cuts are going to be and then arrange things that will work for us. It’s not necessarily equal to a set number of kids,” Messmer said.
While the Head Start program in Southern Illinois will see a dramatic cut in its budget, Messmer said she has proposed a plan that would allow for the program to continue providing services equal to its present state.
“What I’m trying to do is figure out how to not cut the number of kids that are in these seven counties,” Messmer said. “Because in these seven counties we are the biggest, one of the only places for children these ages to go.”
Head Start will join other educational institutions in budget cuts brought about by the sequester that the White House estimates will lead to Illinois losing approximately $33.4 million in funding for primary and secondary education, “putting around 460 teacher and aide jobs at risk.”
“In addition, Illinois will lose approximately $24.7 million in funds for about 300 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities,” according to the White House. “Around 3,280 fewer low income students in Illinois would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college and around 2,650 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.”
Messmer said she was scheduled for a conference call Monday in which she would lay out her plan with the Head Start administration leadership in Chicago. She said until approval for her plan was granted she could not discuss how Southern 7 would manage the cuts, only that they would do the best they could with what they were provided.
“I think people are worried, but I think that they trust me and they know that I’m not going to keep things from them,” Messmer said. “I’m going to do the right thing for them and the children and families.”
Southern 7’s Head Start program has little room for the coming cuts. Messmer said it would be a balancing act that will require being frugal in their spending.
“It’s completely out of our hands, but how we deal with that is what we have control of,” Messmer said, adding that Southern Illinois has its own set of unique circumstances when it comes to cutting funding from those who need it most.
“But to me, the biggest statistic for our area, which is on the positive side, is that we all stick together,” Messmer said. “It’s a community. Southern Seven is committed to assuring that we’re taking care of the kids and taking care of the families.
“We provide the immunizations for adults and children, family planning, environmental health, so all the restaurants, all the sewer systems, everything that happens within the seven counties, if you look, Southern 7 is a part of it somewhere,” Messmer said. “So, we’re very integral and embedded in these communities in all seven counties. So, it’s our goal to ensure that we take care of them.”