WILKES-BARRE — Eneida Cardona was nervous, but she managed to get her message out Thursday — her children and others have benefited from the pre-kindergarten programs at Head Start.
Cardona, 43, of Plymouth, joined U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and others at the Beekman Street center to urge Congress to reverse impending sequester cuts that will, if enacted, eliminate places for some 142 children from the Luzerne County program, 2,812 in Pennsylvania and 57,265 across the country. The cuts would be for the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
“I’m glad I qualified for the Head Start program,” Cardona said. “My children have a desire to learn, and they have a better chance of succeeding in school because of Head Start.”
On the eve of President Barack Obama’s visit to Northeastern Pennsylvania, Casey stopped in Wilkes-Barre to call on Congress to reverse the anticipated $400 million — $403,000 in Luzerne County — sequester cuts affecting Head Start.
“Head Start is an important resource that helps low-income children receive a high-quality education that sets them on the path for success in life,” Casey said, standing next to empty chairs that represented the children who would be cut from the program. “Congress has the opportunity to reverse the sequester so that children in Luzerne County and across Pennsylvania can attend Head Start. This is also about our economy. Head Start sets a foundation for life that can take children through high school, college and into the job market.”
Lynn Biga, executive director at the Luzerne County Head Start, said there will be 49 fewer children in the program this year, adding to the waiting list that is approaching 600, and 93 more spots will be lost next year.
“We see children at the critical time of their development,” Biga said. “Low-income families shouldn’t be denied pre-school learning opportunities. We’re very disappointed with the cuts already made to our program.”
Casey said that with the fate of the sequester’s 2014 impacts set to be decided in September, he authored a letter to Senate and House leadership highlighting the devastating impact of the looming cuts.
“The evidence is mounting that this method of addressing our budget issues is having dire consequences, especially on our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens: low-income children enrolled in Head Start,” Casey wrote.
He said the sequester cuts are across the board, affecting well-performing programs as well as bad programs. He said Congress should scrap the sequester and cut programs that have not measured up.
“How many of the children that would be cut from programs like Head Start have the capacity to unleash their potential and have an impact on the world?” Casey asked. “One of this country’s greatest strengths is its people and their focus on the promise of tomorrow.”
Harry Heck, a Head Start volunteer who has five grandchildren in the program, said that without the pre-school program children would be denied many opportunities life has to offer.
“If these cuts go though, the kids will lose out,” he said.