According to a statement issued by Kay Jennings, executive director for Cheaha Regional Head Start, a division of Talladega-Clay-Randolph Child Care, employees were told Friday, during a conference call “we received notification that if the federal government did not pass a budget, funding for programs with the fiscal year beginning date of Oct. 1, 2013, would not receive funding pending the delay of the federal budget. The same afternoon, we notified our parents in writing regarding the information we had received.”
As of Tuesday morning, with no budget forthcoming, “we had no choice but to lock our doors and not offer services. We could not legally operate beyond Sept. 30. Effective Oct. 1, all Head Start children and families received the very hard news that the Head Start program they rely heavily upon would not be operational or available to provide services. In addition to this, approximately 175 employees were laid off and another four administrative employees will be laid off Friday, after required monthly reports have been submitted to all proper agencies.”
TCR is located in Talladega and provides Head Start and Early Head Start services to families in six counties. They also have contracts to provide Early Head Start in three other counties in Alabama. The 16 centers located throughout the region serve a total of 788 infants and children, as well as pregnant mothers. In Talladega County alone, the closure impacts 308 children, ages 6 weeks through pre-school.
Calhoun County will be feeling an even greater impact, with 358 children left without services.
Enrollment was full through the fiscal year that just ended, Jennings said.
In addition to providing early learning, Jennings pointed out that children involved in the Head Start programs also get health screenings, including dental, hearing and vision, as well as growth and developmental assessments. Infants in the Early Head Start Program receive diapers, formula and baby food while at the center, while older children get breakfast, lunch and a snack that meet USDA standards.
“Most important is that every family that we serve relies on Head Start to provide their child with a quality early learning experience,” Jennings concluded. “With the very short notice that TCR and Cheaha received, it will be difficult for families to find another licensed, safe and quality program to temporarily replace the services offered through Head Start. One of TCR’s main goals is to provide children with a safe, loving, warm environment, and we can only pray that parents, on such short notice, will be able to find that service for their child. Many parents have asked ‘What can we do?’ “’Who will keep my child/children while I work?’ Unfortunately, during this crisis we have very few satisfactory answers. In Alabama there is a huge waiting list for subsidized child care assistance, few centers in rural areas, and even fewer slots, especially for infant care.
“Parents continue to ask ‘How long will this last?’ and unfortunately only our elected officials may know the answer to that question. All we can do is plead with each of them to consider the children. They are the voiceless in this debate that is affecting them most, and they are also our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.”
A press release from the Alabama Department of Public Health indicated that the Women, Infant and Children Program would continue for the month, but its future was also in jeopardy.
“Due to the federal government shutdown, the future of the WIC program is uncertain. The Alabama WIC program is continuing to issue food instruments. Participants are currently receiving one month of WIC benefits. The Alabama Department of Public Health will continue to reassess the impact to the WIC program daily, based on guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
The Talladega Office of the USDA was closed due to the shutdown as of Tuesday morning.
Contact Chris Norwood at email@example.com.