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April 24, 2013

Local day care sees sequester axe

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — Thirty-two families that receive day care services from Opportunities for Otsego will lose them as a result of spending cuts directly created by the federal sequestration law, agency Chief Executive Daniel Maskin said Tuesday.

The cuts, 4.9 to 5.1 percent to the federal Head Start program and 10 percent to a federal community block grant administered by the state of New York, total $160,000 to $170,000 and are “purely the result of the sequester,” Maskin said, adding that the agency would be forced to eliminate eight jobs.

“Our elected public officials once again are trying to solve the nation’s financial problems on the backs of poor and working families,” Maskin said.

The reductions will take effect on July 1, 2013.

“Although the cuts in funding are mandated, it was OFO’s decision to implement the cuts the way it did,” Maskin said in explaining why day care was being dropped. “It was a very difficult decision.”

The alternative, he said, would be to cut Head Start slots. That program currently serves 395 children, he said.

The day-care program allows parents a full day to work, with their children attending Head Start instruction in the morning and spending the afternoon in day care, he said.

Asked what the would the cutbacks would mean to these families, Maskin said that would be a question better directed to elected officials.

“They only thing we can say right now is we are going to be working with other day care providers in the community and try and set up times where other day care providers can meet the families and see if day care services can be provided that way,” he said.

Rep. Chris Gibson, asked for comment, emailed a statement to The Daily Star.

“I have long been advocating for a comprehensive, bipartisan solution that sets our country on a sustainable fiscal path and voted for such a solution multiple times,” he wrote. “It is regrettable that more of my colleagues have not shown support for working together to achieve such an outcome.

“As a result, sequestration cuts have gone into effect, with real and negative impacts like here in Otsego County. Sequestration was always meant to be a forcing function for both parties to come together, and we can make more responsible, smarter choices about how we set spending levels for our federal government than sequestration. ...

“It is time to get to a bipartisan, long-term agreement that includes fiscally responsible spending and structural changes, comprehensive tax reform, and policies that will grow our economy.”

Katrina Vega, whose 4-year-old daughter is in the Opportunities for Otsego day care program, said losing it would cause problems for her family.

“My husband and I each work about 55 hours a week, so it’s very important that we have this,” she said. “Our schedule overlaps; neither of us is home during the day. So this is very upsetting.”

She and her husband opened Black Tree Books in the Southside Mall last September.

Her daughter “doesn’t have to ride a bus somewhere or be transferred by someone,” Vega said. “She just stays there all day. She’s always happy to go to school and to day care.

“She will remain in the Head Start program, but it will complicate things, because we’ll have to find a day care for her to go to that will provide transport. And it will be hard to find a place that’s as good as the Head Start on River Street.”

Parents were told Tuesday morning that the program will be discontinued at the end of June, she said.

Another parent, Jennifer Grace of Oneonta, said her son had been going to the agency’s early Head Start since the age of 3 months. As with the Vegas, Grace and her husband both work, she at Springbrook in Cooperstown, where she’s a residential counselor on the overnight shift, and her husband as manager at Sabatini’s Little Italy in Oneonta.

“My husband and I don’t get any day care subsidy, so we pay full price for the day care, which is fine, but it’s a nice atmosphere,” she said. “He’s 3 years old, and he doesn’t call it day care; he calls it school.”

“You’re forcing people’s hands to not be able to work by not providing affordable day care,” she said. “You’re going to force a lot people maybe to have stay home with their kids.”

Sequestration is a series of spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that were due to take effect Jan. 1, but were pushed back to March 1. At the time the first law was passed, it was thought that the cuts would be so onerous that they would force Democrats and Republicans to reach sort of compromise on the federal budget long before it those cuts kicked in.

But the two parties deadlocked, and $85.4 billion in cuts automatically took effect in a wide range of federal agencies.