By Debbie Rolen
September 6, 2013
Charleston – Faced with deep cuts to Head Start programs and services in West Virginia, a coalition led by the W.Va. Council of Churches, the W.Va. Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, W.Va. Citizen Action Group, the W.Va. Center on Budget and Policy, AFSC, SEIU 1199, the W.Va. Head Start Association and other partners conducted a vigil on Thursday, September 5th to bring greater awareness to cuts made by the federal sequester and deliver a clear message to West Virginia’s congressional leaders: sponsor legislation now to stop the next round of sequester cuts scheduled for 2014.
Recent data from the National Head Start Association indicates that more than 400 Head Start and Early Head Start slots have been cut in West Virginia and almost 80 Head Start workers in West Virginia have lost their jobs due to sequester cuts. Because of these cuts, access to programs that offer comprehensive education and health and social services will be slashed, leaving many families and children with nowhere to turn. And another, deeper round of cuts are coming for 2014, while the state is already struggling to shoulder the $3+ million burden created by this year’s cuts. West Virginia has been well-positioned to weather these cuts better than most states, due to significant collaborations at the local level between Pre-K and Head Start programs – but these are not a long-term answer. That’s one reason that Thursday also marks the launch of a legislative sign-on letter written by Senate Education Chair Robert Plymale.
“For every dollar we invest in early child care, we get seven dollars back in long-term savings,” said Stephen Smith, Director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. “The sequester has taken a bat to our jobs, to our families, and to our state budget. We will ask our Congressional delegation to help stop the bleeding.”
To paint the picture of the human impact of sequester cuts, the vigil included hundreds of empty chairs to represent the children and workers directly affected by reduced funding.