WILKES-BARRE —The federal sequester will cut $400,000 in funding from Luzerne County Head Start next year, resulting in 49 fewer children in the program that already has a waiting list of more than 700 kids.
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, and state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, visited the Beekman Street facility Thursday, and after reading stories to two classes, they talked about the funding cuts and the adverse effects on the pre-school program.
Lynn Biga, executive director at Head Start, said the cuts are devastating.
“Nobody is happy about it,” she said.
Especially Harry Heck, a 66-year-old grandfather from Wilkes-Barre who has had nine grandchildren go through the Head Start program — four are currently enrolled. Heck has custody of four of his grandchildren and he was named “Volunteer of the Year” by the organization.
“I put all my effort into helping these kids — all of these kids,” Heck said. “These budget cuts will hurt our kids.”
Cartwright and Mundy read to two classes of children ages 3 to 5. There were about 50 children in the two classes.
“Those two classes represent the amount of children who won’t be here next year,” Biga said. The Head Start serves more than 1,000 children.
Mundy, long an advocate for education and early intervention programs, said the cuts will do irreparable harm.
“Of all places to cut,” she said, “this is an absolute waste of human potential. The long-term affects of these cuts will be terrible.”
Cartwright said Head Start will be cut $400 million nationwide; $20 million in Pennsylvania. He said its a classic example of the sequester’s indiscriminate reductions.
“The bomb went off,” Cartwright said, noting the sequester went into effect because Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on where to cut the federal budget. “You’re literally throwing the baby out with the bath water. You’re cutting good with bad. And let me continue mixing my metaphors. You’re replacing the scalpel with a meat cleaver and the result is doing a lot more harm than good.”
Biga said that in addition to the loss of 49 participants, Head Start will have to lay off four employees.
Mundy said government should be investing more, not less, in education and programs like Head Start.
“If children start behind, they will never catch up,” Mundy said. “We need every child to have every opportunity to become a productive member of society. These cuts will ultimately increase those on welfare and in prison.”
Cartwright said he will do what he can to increase bipartisanship in Congress. He said newer members of the House — Democrats and Republicans — get together to socialize and discuss issues.
“I’m one of 435 in the House,” he said. “I’m trying to change the culture there. We will always disagree on some issues, but we won’t hate each other if we know each other better.”
Biga said Luzerne County Head Start opened 47 years ago. She said the bulk of the agency’s funding — about $8 million — comes from the federal government.
“We should be investing more, not less,” Mundy said.