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Federal shutdown could suspend Jefferson County program Oct. 11

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The Head Start program run by the Community Action Planning Council in Jefferson County will close down if lawmakers fail to end the federal shutdown.

That would mean the 257 children in the program are facing an educational furlough until Congress breaks its impasse on the budget. If there is no progress by Oct. 11, the entire Jefferson County program, overseen by CAPC, is expected to be suspended. In addition, 57 staff members for the program will be sent home without pay until funding is restored.

“Closing our Head Start program would be detrimental to local families and the community as a whole,” Executive Director Melinda M. Gault said in a prepared statement. “This government shutdown presents a serious economic situation for our community and has a demoralizing impact on so many families, children and businesses.”

According to an agency news release, the program’s new contract year was slated to begin Oct. 1. CAPC is “drawing upon a limited reserve fund to keep the program running through Oct. 11.”

Head Start promotes school readiness of children from birth to age 5, and offers classroom settings for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children of low-income families, including those in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

While the Jefferson County program may experience the most immediate impact, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties’ Head Start programs may be a few months behind. Program funds come from the same pot of federal money, but contracts are different.

Norma S. Cary, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Community Development Program, said the Head Start program throughout St. Lawrence County may not be affected until Jan. 1 if the shutdown lasts until then.

“Our grant has gone in; we usually hear in December, so I don’t know if it’d affect it then,” she said. “We’re operating as usual.”

That agency serves 351 children annually.

Meanwhile, Lewis County Head Start Executive Director Sandra Roberts said any potential effects of a federal shutdown are further down the line for the 130 children Head Start serves in Lewis County. That agency’s funding cycle does not begin until March 1.

“Our operations remain constant,” she said.

Head Start programs already were affected by federal budget issues this year. Through sequestration, local programs were reduced by 5 percent.

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