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Budget Fights in Congress Costs WV Kids Their Head Start

According to the WV's largest Head Start provider, more than four hundred kids have lost their spots in the state's programs due to budget cuts. Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Council.
According to the WV's largest Head Start provider, more than four hundred kids have lost their spots in the state's programs due to budget cuts. Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Council.
July 25, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Even though the federal deficit is half what it was, hundreds of West Virginia children are losing spots in Head Start due to the Congressional budget gridlock. Undoing the automatic budget cuts from sequestration seems politically impossible this year. In the meantime, more than 400 of the state's 3- and 4-year-olds have lost their places in Head Start programs.

Michael Sneigle heads the Appalachian Council, a labor-union-backed anti-poverty organization and the state's largest Head Start provider. He said the 5 percent sequestration cuts have hit his program's teachers and parents hard.

"We have folks that, actually, it brought tears to their eyes," he said. "I haven't quite seen anything like it, as far as the loyalty to a program, that this program generates with folks."

The Congressional Budget Office projects the federal deficit will fall below $650 billion this year, about 40 percent of what it was in 2009. Nevertheless, Sneigle said, they are watching the current budget fights closely, because Head Start could be hit again.

"There are folks in Congress who haven't been around a long time and don't know how important these programs have been in many communities," he said. "They think they can do away with this program and nobody gets hurt."

Head Start has been demonstrated to make a big difference for kids, according to Sneigle. The Council does not make a profit, he added, and he called its employees "badly underpaid, compared to their peers." He said they stick with it because they provide opportunities that low-income, working families just would not have otherwise.

"We do health screenings, we do dental screenings; it's a blanket of support that no one else offers. Folks want to raise their kids no matter what their income level is, and they want to do the best they can. If you give them the tools, at least you give them a fighting chance," Sneigle added.

According to Sneigle, local Head Start programs will have to lay off nearly 200 people because of the $3 million in sequestration cuts, and 400 kids will lose their spots in the program.

Many Republicans in the U.S. House continue to argue that domestic programs such as Head Start should be cut even more deeply in order to reduce the budget gap.



Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV