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Josh Kalina of Perham colors while Jean Long, background, leads an exercise at Kids Adventure Head Start in Perham. Head Start is one of the Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council programs that could be hit hard by federal budget cuts. Photo by Sam Benshoof.

Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council could be hit by budget cuts

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Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council could be hit by budget cuts
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

The Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council (CAC) knows it's probably going to get hit hard by upcoming federal budget cuts. The question, though, is how much.

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Congress continues to debate H.R. 1, also called the Continuing Resolution (CR), which would make significant cuts to discretionary spending for the fiscal year 2011 budget.

The 2011 budget was approved in 2010, but with the CR, Congress is re-defining how agencies are able to spend this year's money, said CAC Executive Director Davis Leino-Mills.

If the CR is not enacted by today (March 3), the current funding measure's deadline, Congress must find some other short-term funding solution. Otherwise, a government shutdown remains a possibility.

Democratic leadership was meeting last week to attempt to find a short-term solution to avoid a possible shutdown.

Head Start cuts

Included among the many cuts in the CR is a 22.4 percent cut to Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

A 22.4 percent cut to the Head Start budget of the CAC would mean cutting approximately $280,000, said Jan Herseth, director of the Head Start program. Such a cut would mean the loss of about eight full-time staff members, she said, and of 40 children from local Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Throughout Minnesota, 600 full-time teachers or staff would lose their jobs, which would mean 3,000 fewer kids enrolled in programs.

The CAC Early Head Start and Head Start programs served 217 people in 2010, according to the 2010 Annual Report.

According to Herseth, the program serves kids in Fergus Falls, Perham, Pelican Rapids, Sebeka, Menahga, Verndale and Wadena. All programs take place in public schools.

According to its website, the CAC Head Start program aims to provide parent training and information on child health, provide informative and appropriate parent education and training, provide a wide variety of services for children with disabilities, and many others.

Though it seems that some cuts will likely happen - even as Democrats and Republicans in Congress disagree over exactly how much -Leino-Mills said that what's still unclear is where the Head Start budget cuts will go to.

"We're hoping that there's some way that the cuts won't directly affect the kids, but we still don't know where these cuts are going to fall," he said.

Cuts to Head Start would have a wide ranging impact, Herseth said, referring to a study that said that $1 in Head Start money turns over seven times in a community through increased earnings, employment, family stability, decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition and special education.

A Head Start press release said that investing in early childhood education generates a seven percent to 10 percent return on investment each year, according to Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman.

"Head Start does more than just provide a half day of school to these kids," Leino-Mills said. "It provides so much more to those people who really need it."

Herseth referred to the national goal of closing the achievement gap between high and low-income families.

"Kids in Head Start come from very needy families," she said. "How do you close that achievement gap if that lower end is being affected?"

School readiness will also be affected by the cuts, Herseth said.

"School readiness is so underfunded already," she said, "and now those kids will be starting kindergarten at an even greater disadvantage."

Community Services Block Grant

In addition to potential cuts to Head Start in the CR, the House of Representatives also significantly cut funding from the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), which would affect all agency programs in the CAC.

According to a press release distributed by the CAC, "the loss or reduction in CSBG funding will force Community Action to reduce or eliminate innovative local opportunities related to economic security, education, housing stability and emergency services."

Programs such as Wadena/Otter Tail Tornado Long Term Recovery, Emergency Food and Shelter, Sebeka Horizons project, Community School Food Backpack program, local food shelves and many others.

According to the release, CSBG funding assisted more than 1,237 families in 2010.

Herseth and Leino-Mills recommend that the community reach out to public officials about the proposed cuts.

"Congress people need to be held accountable for these cuts," Herseth said.

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