Times-Leader: With state budget impasse, Head Start looks to borrow money to open on time

WILKES-BARRE — Lynn Biga, executive director of Luzerne County Head Start, said the agency will have to borrow money to be able to open on time and remain open.

The move comes as Head Start and other social services agencies await a budget resolve in Harrisburg where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican majorities in the legislature appear miles apart on an agreement.

The state has been without a budget since July 1 and Biga said securing a $500,000 line of credit with a 3.25 percent interest charge will allow Head Start to keep its state-funded programs open until mid-December.

Biga said the agency’s annual budget is between $10 million and $11 million. Most of that — all but $2 million — is federally funded. The state allocation is $2 million, Biga said, and the two cannot be mixed, even though the monies are used for the same services.

Head Start, celebrating its 50th year in Luzerne County, provides a pre-school program for children ages 3 and 4, and an in-home Early Head Start Program for children from birth to age 3. Biga said there are 1,136 children in Head Start programs and a waiting list of others who want to be involved.

“Our state grants have been approved,” she said, “with no actual dollars received.”

The line of credit, secured through PNC Bank, carried an interest rate of 3.25 percent which will have to be paid back. Biga said the interest will be paid from the state allocation, taking valued dollars away from programming and services.

Of the 232 Head Start employees, 32 positions are paid with state funding. If the budget stalemate continues through the fall and into winter, Biga said programs could be shut down and staff laid off until there is a resolve.

“It’s not a good situation,” she said. “But it’s better than not having our children here in session and staff signing up for unemployment.”

Biga said if programs are shut down, parents will face difficult decisions about how to care for their children. She said most parents have jobs and would have to pay for babysitters or quit their jobs.

She presented charts that show the positive outcomes the Head Start program brings to pre-schoolers. The charts indicated that students show marked improvement in cognitive skills, literacy, math, language, physical fitness and social-emotional areas.

“It’s hard not to worry,” Biga said. “We have no idea when a state budget will be passed.”

Keiri Concepcion, 31, of Wilkes-Barre, was at Head Start’s Beekman Street facility Wednesday to register her 3-year-old son, Jeremiah. Concepcion said her older son went through Head Start and has been doing well in school.

“If this program wasn’t here, I would have to hire a babysitter,” Concepcion said. “And my son wouldn’t learn like he does here and he wouldn’t be interacting with other children his age.”

Biga has reached out to State Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, for his help. Kaufer told her that Republicans have proposed Gov. Wolf restore line items that he and the GOP are in agreement with, but so far that option has not been agreed to.

“We’re approaching a desperate situation,” Biga said.

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