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State community action agencies, Head Start fear sequester impact

children in head start classroom
Photo provided by Missouri Association for Community Action

Administrators at local and regional agencies that aid low-income Missourians say they are keeping an eye on the impact of the sequester, or across-the-board federal spending cuts, and they fear the cuts could negatively impact their agencies. 

While many questions about the impact of sequestration rollout remain, Missouri's Community Action Agencies are expecting an all-around 5 percent budget cut due to the federal sequestration.  This could mean serious cutbacks to several services provided by the agency.

One of those services is the Head Start Program, which serves over 20,000 families.  A White House statement on the state impact of the sequester says the cuts could mean a statewide elimination of the program for more than 1,000 children. 

Elaine West, Executive Director for the Missouri Association for Community Action, says that those cuts have serious impact for the future.  “That’s 1,200 kids, but it’s also their families," she says.  "And it impacts where they’re going to be when they start school [and] how they’re going to do when they get in school.”

Right now, administrators say there is just not enough information for agencies to start making decisions.  Brent Engel, a spokesperson for the Northeast Community Action Corporation, says, “There are just too many variables, too many questions we haven’t gotten answered yet.”

The cuts could also mean agencies may have to lay some employees off.  West says that if Head Start classrooms are closed, the staff working those classrooms wound be affected.  “Our first concern is about what this is going to do to low income families,” she says, “but some of the people that are working with those low income families will be impacted too.”  Engel says that his agency is going on as planned.  “Another one of those unanswered questions is whether we’re going to have to lay off staff,” he says. “Right now we’re not, down the road we might have to.”

West says she expects to find out whether or not the cuts will take place by the end of March.

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