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Federal Budget Cuts Hit Home for One Eastern Iowa Program

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- For one eastern Iowa social service agency the fears about the impact of the federal sequester locally have become reality.

Head Start and Early Start programs operated by the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) must slice $289,000 from that program's budget because of the automatic federal budget cuts. Beginning with the new preschool year in late August, HACAP will cut the number of available preschool openings from 670 to 600. The organization will also have to eliminate 16 jobs connected with the program.

HACAP informed staffers about the cutbacks last week. Letters to Head Start and Early Start parents in the six-county HACAP service area will go out either Wednesday or Thursday.

Christi Regan, Head Start program director for HACAP, said the idea that federal budget cuts would impact preschool programs was no surprise. In February, before the cuts took effect, the White House sent a press release to Iowa reporters warning that the sequester would eliminate preschool openings for 500 kids statewide.

Regan said months ago, the idea was still a "what if" with hopes Congress would come up with a compromise to restore funding. Now, it's a reality the HACAP board must work into its own budget.

"With families right now, there's always that stress that concern of what will happen to my child's teacher—what's going to happen to my child's center," Regan said.

Regan said the letters going out to families will reassure them that those currently enrolled will see minimal changes. Some might need to transfer to a new preschool building to find space. It's new families trying to enroll a child for the first time who will run into real problems.

With the elimination of 70 preschool slots, some families may have to look elsewhere for daycare and preschool services. Regan said there are currently 300 people on a waiting list for Head Start or Early Start openings. She said that waiting list will surely grow after August.

Sarah Tietge, a Head Start parent picking up her kids Monday, said she was grateful the cuts won't impact current families. But she is concerned for other families not enrolled now who won't get the benefits of an early childhood education.

"It's a good program. My kids love it and it would be sad for them not to have the opportunity to go through the program," Tietge said.

With 17 HACAP preschool centers, the job cuts basically mean one employee lost at almost every facility.

Lisa Nagel, a Head Start teacher at the Inn Circle facility, has taught there for 13 years. Because of seniority bumping, she'll have to transfer to another facility to keep her job. And she's sad about that.

"People they've worked with, they'll no longer work together. Relationships you've had with families and children will be different. It's like starting over," Nagel said.

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