WIC, Head Start programs could be affected by long-term government shutdown

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford and Manchester - posted Thu., Oct. 10, 2013

Federally-funded programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Head Start in East Hartford and Manchester have enough funds for the immediate future, but could be in trouble if the government shutdown persists for an extended period of time.

“We have not been affected as of yet,” said Kathy Minicutcci, the coordinator for the East Hartford WIC program that serves 19 surrounding towns including Manchester. “There were some left over monies from the federal fiscal year 2013.”

The WIC program provides healthcare referrals, nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support and supplemental foods.  There are 12 local agency WIC programs that operate 23 full-time offices and 52 part-time satellite offices across 169 towns in the state, according the State of Connecticut’s website. The East Hartford office has about 4,500 participants across the 19 towns.  Statewide, there are 54,000 participants as of the end of September, according to Minicutcci. Close to nine million women and children across the nation utilize the services of WIC.

“If Congress fails to pass a ‘clean’ continuing resolution before month’s end, many WIC programs across the nation will run out of operating funds,” said Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, president and CEO of the National WIC Association, in a statement on www.nwica.org.  “Clinics will be forced to close their doors, turn participants away, and end benefits.  This would be unconscionable.”

Minicutcci said money in the New England States was sent back to the regional office of the United States Department of Agriculture where it was re-distributed to all of the New England states.  “So all of the states have basically been given enough federal funding to run through the end of October,” explained Minicutcci. 

Jim Cordier, the health director for the town of East Hartford, said there are “ample funds at least for the present on hand.”
However, if the shutdown persists into November, “it looks like we would have to shut down,” said Minicutcci.

But for now, participants are urged to continue using the program. “The state is trying to encourage people to keep their WIC appointments, use their WIC checks and any participants or concerned citizens that would like to see WIC continue to be funded should maybe call their representatives and their Senators and just let them know that it’s important that the WIC program continue,” said Minicutcci. 

“We’ve got our fingers crossed and we have faith that things will be worked out in the not too distant future, and in the meantime we’re advising people not to panic,” said Cordier.

Another federally-funded program for young children that is affected by the shutdown is Head Start services.  Head Start, “promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development,” according to the office of Head Start’s website. Even the main page for the Office of Head Start has been affected by the shutdown, as a message posted on the site says, “due to the government shutdown, information on this website may not be up to date. For information about available government services, visit USA_gov.”

The Manchester Head Start program has been in operation since 1965, and at its current location on Washington Street for the past five years. The Manchester Preschool Center serves 3- and 4-year olds with a capacity for 152 students, according to principal Jerry Reisman.

Reisman said the Manchester program hasn’t been affected by the government shutdown yet. “Some Head Start programs have a fiscal year that begins October 1st; those programs didn’t get federal funds,” said Reisman.  “Our program happens to have a March 1 fiscal year, which means that March 1 we get allocations for the year.  So at this point we’re okay, as long as the shutdown doesn’t last too long.”

Reisman said programs that have a fiscal year starting Nov. 1 will be affected next. Even if the shutdown is resolved, Reisman said there are still concerns for the future funding of the program. “Pretty soon we’re going to have to deal with the federal budget for next year’s budget and depending on what happens there, you could also see federal dollars be lost to programs like Head Start,” said Reisman. “That could certainly have an adverse affect on program quality.”

Paul Mainuli, the director of business services for East Hartford public schools said their Head Start program based at the Willowbrook Early Childhood Education Center on Willowbrook Drive is okay for now.  Mainuli added that their contract year with Head Start runs from January through December.

One program in the East Hartford public schools that has been affected by the government shutdown is Starbase. The Starbase program is a contract with the Department of Defense and does STEM type activities with the students, according to Nathan Quesnel, the superintendent of East Hartford public schools. 

Every fifth-grader in the East Hartford public school district attends a workshop at Brainard Airport in Hartford as part of the Starbase program. “Literally we had the kids there one day and we got a phone call from [Brainard Airport], they’d just been notified that morning the government had actually shut their program down and we had to go get the kids and bring them back to school,” said Quesnel. 

For more information on the government shutdown you can call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636), Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Further shutdown information:

What is and isn’t affected?
Listed below are some services and operations that have been affected by the government shutdown and some that will continue operation.  All information courtesy of USA.gov.

Services affected by the shutdown
- Vital services that ensure seniors and young children have access to healthy food and meals may not have sufficient Federal funds to serve all beneficiaries in an extended lapse.
- Call centers, hotlines, and regional offices that help veterans understand their benefits will close to the public.
- Veterans’ compensation, pension, education and other benefits could be cut off in the case of an extended shutdown.
- National parks are closed.
- New applications for small business loans and loan guarantees will be immediately halted.

 

Services that will continue
- Social Security beneficiaries will continue receiving checks.
- The U.S. Postal Service will keep delivering mail.
- Active military will continue serving
- Air traffic controllers, prison guards and border patrol agents will remain on the job
- NASA Mission Control will continue supporting astronauts serving on the Space Station.
Credit USA.gov (here is the website if you want to check it out – http://www.usa.gov/shutdown.shtml


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