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SEIU Head Start teacher shares the impact of “sequestration” on her kids and community

March 7, 2013

HACAP Head Start teacher Colleen Mehaffey writes about all the good work under threat. Then, read the long list of other Iowa programs being jeopardized.

A Letter from SEIU Local 199 Member Colleen Mehaffey

I have been a Head Start teacher with the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for 30 years. I know the struggles, concerns and issues of low income families and families in poverty. Currently our agency serves 742 children in our Early Head Start and Head Start programs in 6 counties.

The so-called Sequestration, which has led to major budget cuts, will hurt these kids. This means our funding is going to be cut by $245,000. So what is at stake?

Parents in low-income families will lose the support they need to continue their education. Working poor families will have to use their precious dollars to pay for childcare or resort to substandard care. Their children will miss out on Head Start! Head Start is an excellent early childhood development program that cares for the whole child: social, emotional, cognitive, physical, health, dental and nutrition developmental areas.

Since 1990 HACAP has created full-day, year-round Head Start classrooms for children of low income parents who are employed or are students. We are truly giving families a hand up, not a hand out. I want our families to succeed!

Our Head Start program enables parents to graduate from high school, technical schools, community college, and University of Iowa. Our parents are employed installing windows, cleaning hospitals and care centers. They are CNAs at care centers. They work in retail at some expensive stores as well as discount stores. They work security jobs (night and day). They are teacher assistants at low paying private day cares. And they are bartenders, and waiters.

Our Head Start parents contribute to society. Our Head Start parents are furthering their education so they can have a better lifefor themselves and their kids.

I have had parents who have graduated from college with degrees in political science, business administration, elementary education and science/computers technology.

Here is a true story. At our Family Valentine Party, I was getting to know a parent from another classroom. I asked her what she was doing lately. She said she had taken all the classes she could on line and now she was commuting to the University of Iowa “because I’m going to be a lawyer.” That struck me because she didn’t say “I want to be" or “I’d like to be.” She said, “I am going to be a lawyer.”

This is why I have worked with Head Start for 30 years. Parents can be positive, resilient and motivated to attain their goals and to stay employed. I get to help with that.

We need to end the partisan bickering and restore funding to these vital programs.

Colleen Mehaffey

Cedar Rapids, Iowa


If sequestration were to take effect, some examples of the impacts on Iowa this year alone are:

- Teachers and Schools: Iowa will lose approximately $6.4 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 90 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition,. about 7,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 50 fewer schools would receive funding.

- Education for Children with Disabilities: In addition, Iowa will lose approximately $5.8 million in funds for about 70 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.

- Work-Study Jobs: Around 2,370 fewer low-income students in Iowa would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college and around 1,020 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.

- Head Start: Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 500 children in Iowa, reducing access to critical early education.

- Protections for Clean Air and Clean Water: Iowa would lose about $2.4 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Iowa could lose another $661,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

- Military Readiness: In Iowa, approximately 2,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $7.4 million in total.

- Army: Base operation funding would be cut by about $1.5 million in Iowa.

- Law Enforcement and Public Safety Funds for Crime Prevention and Prosecution: Iowa will lose about $135,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.

- Job Search Assistance to Help those in Iowa find Employment and Training: Iowa will lose about $376,000 in funding for job search assistance, referral, and placement, meaning around 12,680 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment.

- Child Care: Up to 300 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to child care,which is also essential for working parents to hold down a job.

- Vaccines for Children: In Iowa around 1,320 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $90,000.

- Public Health: Iowa will lose approximately$291,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events. In addition, Iowa will lose about $670,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 1,100 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Iowa Department of Public Health will lose about $61,000 resulting in around 1,500 fewer HIV tests.

- STOP Violence Against Women Program: Iowa could lose up to $65,000 in funds that provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 200 fewer victims being served.

- Nutrition Assistance for Seniors: Iowa would lose approximately $220,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.