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Head Start eliminated services to 57,000 children because of sequester

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Head Start programs erased services for 57,000 U.S. children in the coming school year to balance sequester-starved budgets, federal data indicated.

The latest numbers, based on results of "reduction plans" Head Start grantees submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services, will affect tens of thousands of poor families across the country who rely on Head Start for early learning programs, day care, and social services and medical care for their children.

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The data, scheduled to be released Monday, would cut 1.3 million days from Head Start centers, and lay off or reduce pay for more than 18,000 employees, The Washington Post reported.

Before the 5 percent across-the-board federal budget cuts went into effect in March, the Obama administration said 70,000 children would lose access to Head Start because of the mandatory cuts. A senior administration official told the Post the projection is based on a "worst-case scenario."

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The Post said the data indicated some Head Start centers cut administrative and support services, while others shortened the school year or the school day. The latest figures indicated 18,000 program hours would be cut next school year by centers that will either start later or end earlier.

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Most programs completely cut services to some children. The sequester "also impacted how many staff kept their jobs, how many dental screenings and health screenings are available and what happens to those families as we go into a new school year," the administration official said.

Head Start and Early Head Start -- for infants and toddlers up to age 3 -- programs serve more than 1 million children from poor families across the country, the Post said.

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Yasmina Vinci, executive director for the National Head Start Association, an advocacy group in Alexandria, Va., said centers worked to preserve the number of children served but see a "troubling picture" for the program.

Vinci said "better-off communities" or outside organizations in some instances stepped in to help, which is one reason why the effects of the budget cuts weren't as dramatic as the administration projections, the Post said.

"They found ways to fill the gap," she said.

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However, she said she worried how such solutions would play out while Washington engages in fiscal debate.

"None of that is sustainable," she said.

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