The director of Lower Columbia College Head Start said Friday afternoon she was “waiting for a miracle” after spending most of the day in conference calls to Washington, D.C., talking about looming budget cuts.

At press time, 5.3 percent across-the-board cuts in the federal budget were set to occur automatically at midnight EST Friday through automatic budget cuts. The $85 billion in cuts include $398 million to Head Start, a federal program for preschool children from low-income families.

In Washington that would mean nearly $9 million — or at least 1,000 children — being eliminated from Head Start programs, according to the state.

“Many cuts would be immediate,” said Joel Ryan of the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP, and the rest would take place within the next seven months depending on each program’s grant cycle.

“It could definitely impact our local program,” said Sandy Junker of LCC Head Start, which serves 320 children up to age 5. An additional 99 children receive Head Start through Educational Service District 112, according to the state.

“And we’re not even meeting the need,” Junker said. “We could easily serve well over 1,000 in Cowlitz County if we had the funding.”

Cowlitz County would lose $170,000, she said.

“And we run a lean program, believe me. We have a large volunteer base within our program that donates $800,000 a year in just in-kind hours, so this kind of reduction is going to definitely impact what we’re doing now.”

The good news is that LCC Head Start’s grant cycle starts July 1, so cuts in the local program would not take effect immediately, she said.

Congress’ next opportunity to fix the budget would be to pass a continuing resolution (CR), Ryan said Friday.

“Our hope is that the across-the-board cuts would be shut off in the CR,” he said. “What I’ve heard is the House Republicans plan on bringing their CR to the floor next week. ... If it isn’t resolved (by March 27), the government shuts down.”

He said he has heard reports that Washingtonians are putting a lot of pressure on their senators and representatives.

“We’re hopeful,” he said. “All I can say is, you sure can get someone’s attention if you cut 5 percent from their budget.”

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