The sequester's impact on local Head Start: Fewer children will have access to social services

KANSAS CITY, MO - A federally funded program that provides social services for children in the Kansas City Metropolitan area could see deep cuts soon.

Looming federal budget cuts caused by the sequestration could force the Mid America Head Start and Early Start program to cut about $1 million from its budget.

Elizabeth Smith, the director of the Mid America Head Start and Early Start program said the cuts could come earlier than expected.

"We thought, based on our current funding cycle that we would not have to make the reduction until July 1, 2013 when our new grant year starts," Smith said. "We recently found out that that wasn't the case. The funding that we're operating under now is also subject to those cuts.  It will affect children that are enrolled this school year."

Mid America Head Start and Early Start serves about 3,000 infant, toddler and preschoolers in Clay Jackson and Platte counties in Missouri. Head Start is a federally funded early childhood program for children that come from low-income families. The program provides early childhood education, family engagement, nutrition, mental health services for children with disabilities.

There are about 72 Head Start locations across the metro area. At this point, Head Start does not know specifically how the cuts are going to affect the programs across the metro area, but program leaders do know fewer kids are going to have access to important social services.

"It feels awful," Smith said. "These are really hard decisions to make to try to figure out if we do have to close a center which one do we close when we know that there's need everywhere and we can't really say this program needs it less than this program. Those are very difficult decisions to make."

Smith said right now, Mid America Head Start and Early Start serves only 18 percent of children who qualify in the area. Head Start is only beginning to meet the needs of the community. Smith says staff members hope to maintain the current standard of services.

"What we need to be doing right now is to look at what it costs to provide quality services and then we'll be able to figure out ‘Ok that's how many children we'll be able to serve with this reduced amount of funding.'"

Smith said they're waiting to find out specifically how much they will have to cut and where they will make the cuts. Smith said the budget cuts will also mean a reduction in staff.

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