Merced's Head Start office is waiting for guidance from its Washington, D.C. headquarters on the extent of federal budget cuts and how they should be implemented locally, Director Linda Kaercher said.
Kaercher said she has been told to expect a 5 percent drop in funding from the federal sequestration cuts that went into effect this month. That could mean about $600,000 less in funding.
"It's pretty significant," Kaercher said. "We are in the process of developing a plan to handle this. We have very little discretionary money left and this is going to be tough."
Christie Hendricks, assistant superintendent of the Early Education Department of the Merced County Office of Education which administers Head Start, said about 70 children and their families will lose comprehensive Head Start services.
"It's devastating to our program," Hendricks said. "We are serving the neediest of children and their families." Hendricks said about 20 staff members will be affected by the cuts.
Kaercher said 1,060 children from 3 to 5 years of age are served by Head Start programs at 16 sites throughout the county. Another 200 children, from infants to toddlers, also are served and the program can work with up to 10 pregnant mothers.
Head Start is a federal program for preschool children from low-income families, according to Merced County Head Start's website.
The Head Start program is operated by local non-profit organizations in almost every county in the country. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities and receive free medical and dental care along with healthy meals and snacks. The children also participate in activities in a safe setting.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.