MERRILLVILLE | Federal budget cuts already are being felt by some of Indiana's youngest residents.
In downstate Bartholomew County, the Head Start program has had to notify that it will discontinue services to 20 percent, or at least 17 of its 83 students, by April 1 to help the agency meet its national mandate to reduce overall expenses by 5 percent.
Locally, Merrillville-based Geminus Corp., which operates Head Start programs in Lake and Porter counties, has not made any cuts yet.
Head Start programs across the country, along with national parks, airports, school districts and other entities that rely on federal money, are looking at automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester, set to take effect through September because Congress did not take steps to stop it.
Geminus contracts with local agencies to provide Head Start services to about 1,500 low-income children in Lake and Porter counties, 10 percent of whom have a disability.
Geminus also operates two delegate agencies in Lake County, subcontracting to the School City of Hammond and the Lake Ridge Schools, which both provide Head Start services through their schools.
Sanford Kauffman, president of Geminus Corp., which oversees federal funding for Head Start, said they are developing a plan, but it's a multi-step process that includes approval by the board and the parent council before it goes to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
"It's not something we can do overnight," he said Wednesday. "We have a commitment to our families, and we are not going to arbitrarily cut services. HHS has told all Head Start grantees that reducing the number of children is one of the options they will consider, because they know we can't offer all of the same services with less money."
However, Kauffman said they will do everything possible to reduce expenditures without reducing the number of children served.
As they continue to develop a plan, Kauffman said they would look first at the services provided through Head Start that are not required. For example, transportation is not a mandated service, he said.
Kauffman said the organization no longer provides transportation for its full-day, full-year program, but continues to provide transportation for half-day classes, and "that's something we'll look at." He also said the program might consider options such as ending classes earlier in the spring or starting later in the fall.
Kauffman also emphasized that parents are involved throughout the process. He said every Head Start site has a parent council and every site elects representatives to the parent council.
"We won't do anything without parents being involved and aware of the process," he said.