Pharos-Tribune

March 1, 2013

Sequestering local services

Federal spending reductions likely to affect Head Start, housing vouchers — but nobody knows how

by Sarah Einselen
Pharos-Tribune

— Federal spending reductions scheduled to kick in today will eventually filter down to the local level, hitting federally funded services like Head Start preschool and the Logansport Housing Authority — but nobody is sure yet to what extent services will be affected.

“It’s not going to affect us right away,” said Head Start director Cindy Hatten of the reductions, known as the sequester. Figures released by the White House state that Indiana’s Head Start program will lose funding for about 1,000 children statewide, which at the local Area Five would mean nine children less out of the 202 from Cass, Fulton and Miami counties currently enrolled.

“But it’s not like I’m going to kick nine kids out of the program,” Hatten pointed out. “That’s like half a classroom. And which nine kids would I kick out?”

About 76 children are already on the Head Start waiting list, she said, and some 500 children total in the tri-county area are eligible for the low-income preschool program.

Hatten has received no direction from Head Start administrators higher up so far, though she’d heard as early as January that legislators in Washington, D.C., expected the reductions to take effect. The program’s fiscal year runs through July 31.

“We’re more than halfway through our year,” she said. “Are they going to charge us the full 5.2 percent or will it be prorated?”

The sequester also included cuts to Title I education funds affecting more than 2,700 schools nationwide, the White House said. Federal support for special education, including about $12.4 million in Indiana funds for staff working with children with disabilities, was on the chopping block, too.

“We know that it will impact us, but we don’t know in what scale it will impact us,” said Michele Starkey, superintendent of Logansport Community School Corporation, which provides special education support for about 10 area school districts.

At this point, school administrators haven’t planned any cuts to the existing budget. We’ll have to wait and see exactly what happens and how that’ll affect us,” Starkey said.

“It’s very frustrating … it’s like OK, sit back and see what happens. You feel totally helpless.”

In the event that the school’s Title I and special education programs do get significant funding cuts, she doesn’t expect classroom staff will be cut.

“We would do anything we can to keep any cuts away from classrooms,” said Starkey. “We would do our best, as we have in the past, to keep cuts from impacting student instruction.”

Logansport Housing Authority, which receives all its funding through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, has already planned for more than $8,000 dropping off the organization’s monthly funding.

The housing authority will start receiving some $77,000 and change, said new executive director Rocky Buffum, after operating regularly on $86,000 per month.

“We’d like to get through it without affecting the checks of the people receiving assistance,” said Buffum. About 270 people currently get housing assistance.

With a couple of people moving off the assitance list, “we’re not refilling those slots at this time,” Buffum said.

His salary is less than that of the previous director, he added, a “small step” toward cutting costs further.

The housing authority is also looking at switching to cheaper vendors and doing more business electronically to save on paper and printing costs, he said. Staffers are also pursuing possible fraud cases more aggressively.

“It’s to the point that if we’re going to help people who really need it we need to stop people taking advantage of the programs available,” Buffum said.

But will it be enough?

“I think we’re going to get pretty close,” commented Buffum. “It might get to the point where we do have to make a cut, but we’re really trying to not let it get that far.”

In Bunker Hill, officials at Grissom Air Reserve Base are waiting to hear how the federal budget reductions could affect military and civilian personnel at the base.

Lt. Col. G.J. Lockard, public affairs specialist with Grissom, said military officials currently are considering requiring civilian workers to take 22 unpaid furlough days over a five-month period. He said military personnel wouldn’t be immediately affected by the cuts.

Grissom currently employees 615 civilian employees.

Kokomo Tribune reporter Carson Gerber contributed to this report. Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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