U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Madison, stopped by the Rock and Walworth County Head Start Program in Beloit Thursday morning to talk about the cuts the program is facing due to the federal sequester.
Head Start is a federally funded preschool and family program that serves low-income families.
The program is facing a 5.27 percent funding cut. In 2012, about $4.3 million from its $6 million budget came from federal funding.
“We've been referred to as a daycare, but what people don't realize is that we are a critical link to kids in poverty and their success in kindergarten,” said Cheryl Hutchison, family and community partnerships team leader for RWC Head Start.
Pocan sat down with Hutchison and other local Head Start officials to talk about the way the cuts could impact the program.
Vicky Mortimer, finance director for RWC Head Start, said the program receives two separate grants for both Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
Pocan asked what the program will have to do in order to cut the percentage from the budget.
Mortimer said no final decisions have been made, but they might have to close a few days earlier and possibly reduce enrollment.
After his tour Pocan said the Head Start program is very valuable for many children across the state.
“Last week when Congress took care of themselves when they made sure they had less of a wait at airports we didn't do anything over parts of the sequester that affect things like Head Start and Meals on Wheels for seniors,” he said.
Pocan said the cuts in the sequester don't make sense.
“You don't cut bad programs, we're not investing in good programs, and we're just doing these mindless cuts,” he said. “I'm hoping as we see the real life impacts in the district we can have try to change this.”
Kathy Gorrell, Head Start family resource worker, told Pocan some parents are facing eviction from their public housing due to unpaid electric bills.
Hutchison said the program has an emergency fund for parents, however, that might also be in danger.
“We protect that (fund) so much because we want the parent to have tried everything else, but we're really worried we won't have enough,” she said.
In 2012, the RWC Head Start program received $4.2 million through federal funding and $161,700 from Wisconsin State Head Start Supplemental.
The program serves 380 children in Head Start and 130 in the Early Head Start. Children in Head Start range in ages from 3 to 5 years old, and Early Head Start from 1 to 3 years old.
Hutchison said about 200 children in both programs are from Beloit. The program also serves children in Walworth County especially in Lake Geneva, Delevan and Sharon.