Two Head Start centers in Hernando County could face closure if the government shutdown occurs

HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. - The looming shutdown of the federal government would have an immediate impact on Head Start programs in the Bay area, according to an assistant program director based in Hernando County.

Two Head Start centers in Hernando County were put on alert Monday that they could be closing their doors this week. The centers are located in Brooksville and Spring Hill.

Head Start is a federally funded program that provides children from low-income families access to education and medical services, as well as childcare and family support.  The program is designed for children ages five and under.

"Head Start serves the neediest of the needy," said Amy Thomas, assistant director of Head Start for Hernando County.  "All of the families that qualify for Head Start are below the poverty level."

Marsha Stewart, 22, depends on the center in Brooksville.  She brings her daughter there five days a week while she goes to school and then work.

She fears if the center closes, she will not be able to make ends meet.

"I could lose my job and be without pay and not be able to take care of her," explained Stewart.

Stewart said she cannot afford daycare or babysitters.  If the center shuts down, she will face an uncertain future.

She is not alone. 

There are another 264 children enrolled at the counties two centers that will have no place to go if politicians do not reach an agreement.

"It is horrible.  It is very sad," Stewart added.

Stewart, who also attended Head Start as a child, said the center is a staple in the community.  A lot of families view it as the safest place their child could be.

Stewart told ABC Action News the children will likely suffer the most because their parents will not be able to work.

"How can someone get out of the ditch they are in and grow when the tree trunks are being cut away, so to speak?" Stewart questioned.

The fiscal year for the Hernando County centers starts October 1. 

"We are an October 1 program year and so our funding has not yet been drawn down.  So, if the government shuts down, we would be unable to draw down that funding," Thomas explained.

Thomas said the center will have enough money to keeps its doors open until October 6.

Meanwhile, the director of Hillsborough County Head Start/Early Head Start said she is determined to keep the centers open for business.

"If Congress and the White House cannot agree on federal spending measures and funding is not provided to local governments, Hillsborough County will use local funding to keep the program running," wrote Director Lori Hudson in a press release.

"Further, the County is requesting authorization to use funding that remains from FY13, which ends today.   Head Start/Early Head Start also receives County matching funds, which may be used in the midst of federal funding uncertainty."


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