Local Services For Children Cope With Federal Budget Cuts
Programs serving small children in Southwest Florida are feeling the effects of federal budget cuts due to sequestration.
Sequestration is the result of a deal struck between Republicans and Democrats in Congress during debate over the debt ceiling.
Healthy Start of Southwest Florida, which is part of the statewide agency making sure babies have access to health care in an effort to lower the state’s infant mortality rate, lost $209,000 this past week.
Cathy Timuta, the executive director of Healthy Start of Southwest Florida, said the cut is significant and comes at a time when her program is dealing with an increase in substance-exposed newborns in the area.
“So you got needs expanding and funds contracting,” Timuta said. “And even though the economy is turning around a bit, it hasn’t turned around for our program.”
In the same week Timuta learned of the cuts, a new report found Florida's infant mortality rate is at an all-time low.
Head Start is also dealing with big cuts. The school readiness program for low-income children gets most of its funds from the federal government.
Due to sequestration, the program lost $378,000 in funding for Lee County, alone.
Head Start’s Lee County administrator, Jeanne LaFountain, said this means staff cuts and cutting kids, as well.
“The problem with cutting children is that we already have an extremely large waiting list,” she said. “Our waiting list runs anywhere from – well, I usually say 500 to 800, but last year it was already 800. We could already double our program for the upcoming year. And we are not even close to school and we will get a lot more applications before school even starts.”
LaFountain said she anticipates the waitlist will reach 1000 children.