Kids may not get 'Head Start' if government shutdown continues

PORTLAND, Ore. - Thousands of families and children across the country could bear the brunt of the government shutdown if it doesn't end soon.

Head Start programs in Washington and Oregon are counting down to Oct. 31 when their money runs out. If that happens, thousands of children will be without school.

The Albina Head Start program in Portland serves 1,000 low-income children and families. About 52 percent of its budget will go away if the government doesn't get back to work by Nov. 1.

Ronnie Herndon, who runs the Albina Head Start program, said if that happens, he'll have to close the doors.

"We'll have absolutely no money. We can't buy food. We can't pay for the heat. We can't pay staff. We'll have no money," he said.

Herndon said he's already told his staff and parents to prepare for the worst. But he also knows what's best for the children right now is for life at school to be as normal as possible.

He said Head Start has dealt with budget cuts in the past, but he's never had to lay anyone off and kids have always been able to come to school. He said employees took unpaid days off to make the numbers work. This time he said that won't help.

Head Start is in almost every community across the country, and Herndon said children and families who use it are healthier and kids are more likely to graduate from high school and be productive members of society than they would be if the program didn't exist.

The children who come to Albina's Head Start learn how to share, play and are taught good manners. Herndon calls it "Pre-School Plus."

"We make sure that if there are any dental concerns, they get taken care of: vision, hearing, nutrition," he said.

Herndon said he also wants people to know the threat of shutting down Head Start programs across the country is much bigger than Head Start. He said it means tens of thousands of mostly single-parent families would be forced to choose between child care and work. Additionally, thousands of Head Start staff would be forced to go on unemployment.

Herndon has the following message to Congress: "You are pushing this suffering down on innocent people while you, yourself are sitting back fat and happy. I think it's one of the most cowardly acts I've ever seen."

On top of possibly losing funding on Nov. 1, Head Start programs across the country already suffered cutbacks last spring due to the sequester.

A Head Start program in Lincoln County will also run out of money at the end of the month if the government doesn't get back to work. It is a union program, so employees there have already gotten lay-off notices.