Sequestration could lead to big Head Start cuts on Grand Strand

Democratic and Republican governors were in Washington Monday to meet with President Barack Obama.

They're in bipartisan agreement that they want to avoid the deep automatic spending cuts under the so-called sequester.

The $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts will kick in on Friday, unless Congress can reach a deal.

Congressional lawmakers returned from a week long recess, but there is little indication of any breakthrough.

In the Grand Strand and Pee Dee, one of the biggest impacts of sequestration would be on the Head Start program.

It may not be felt immediately, but in time, hundreds of families in our area would have to find other ways to take care of their kids, which could lead a major disruption in many lives.

Family income isn't the only criteria for getting into the program, but officials say about 90 percent of Head Start kids in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties live at or below the poverty line.

The head of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council says sequestration would cut about 5.1 to 5.8 percent of the agency's Head Start budget, or nearly $400,000.

"The only way in which you can affect those kinds of reduction in cost within the short period of time we have left in our year is affecting staff, in other words, days of operation," said EOC executive director James Pasley.

Pasley says Head Start would have to cut about 3 to 4 weeks out of its school year, which he says would have a ripple effect on the local economy.

"It also would have an impact on the parents' work schedules. The parents that are working would have to make arrangements either to stay off from work or incur additional child care costs," he said.

Pasley added that the shortened year would also disrupt other services the 3-and-4 year-olds in the program receive, like health check-ups.

Also, Pasley says there's the impact on Head Start teachers.

"Our staff has obligations, they have house payments, they buy gas, they buy groceries in the community."

Pasley says studies show Head Start kids have fewer disciplinary problems when they get to school and are better prepared to graduate from high school or go on to college.

"It pays dividends, it pays significant return on investment," he said.

Sequestration would impact other Waccamaw EOC line items, too, like weatherization, child nutrition and summer youth programs, but Pasley says the biggest impact would be on the 822 kids enrolled in Head Start and their families, and that's just in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.