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Hillsborough County's Head Start programs remain open during government shutdown

TAMPA — Hillsborough County's Head Start programs will remain open for business despite the loss of federal money due to the government shutdown.

County officials, anticipating the shutdown, acted late Monday to direct local funds to keep the programs running. They also requested authorization to use leftover funds from the fiscal year 2013 budget, which expired Monday.

"We will use those local dollars while the government is shut down," said county spokeswoman Lori Hudson. "Obviously, the longer this goes on, the more of a problem it becomes."

The county currently serves 3,318 children in its Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which provide education, health and family support services to low-income families.

These programs are run out of 19 county-operated centers, plus four contracted locations and three county-delegated day care agencies.

Most money for the programs comes from federal dollars, and that money halted as soon as the government shut down. This was an issue particularly for Hillsborough County because its federal contract ended this week with the end of the fiscal year.

Pinellas' Head Start program was not in danger of immediate effects because it is fully funded through the end of 2013, said Sam Sipes, president and CEO of Lutheran Family Services, which oversees Head Start in Pinellas.

"We're not affected and, apparently, nationally there's really only a handful of Head Start grantees that are impacted," Sipes said.

Despite the fact that about 80 percent of Hillsborough's programs are paid for by the federal government, Hudson said the Head Start programs were never in danger of closing due to the shutdown.

The county was working with their program partners to ensure a seamless continuity of service for the children in the program, officials said.

Other than leftovers from the past fiscal year, the county's Head Start programs will receive money from the countywide general fund during the shutdown, Hudson said.

The program's 2014 fiscal year budget is set for $30.3 million, but until that money comes through, the Hillsborough programs will rely on the nearly $3.6 million in local funding at its disposal.

Hudson said the current amount set aside would be enough to last for eight weeks, or through Nov. 30.

"We are working diligently with our partners to maintain this valuable program, even as federal financial assistance is uncertain," Hudson said.

Times staff writer Anna Phillips contributed to this report. Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

Hillsborough County's Head Start programs remain open during government shutdown 10/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 11:49pm]

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