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Kids, seniors at risk in cuts

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Programs that provide early childhood education for at-risk children and meals for senior citizens in Bartholomew County face possible cutbacks if a series of mandated federal spending cuts are enacted Friday.

However, local law enforcement agencies and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Jennings County will see little or no impact on their daily operations.

Automatic, across-the-board cuts for a variety of federal programs were put in place as an attempt to spur federal lawmakers to reach a deal on spending cuts. Instead, a political stalemate has put many programs across the country in jeopardy of cutbacks.

Effects on education

Early childhood education programs for income-eligible families would serve fewer

children locally if the automatic cuts occurred, said Jill Hammer, executive director of Human Services Inc.

Her agency’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs would see annual federal funding drop at least 5.2 percent, from a total of about $3.4 million to about $3.2 million.

She said that would mean a significant reduction in enrollment, less transportation to and from school and the elimination of teaching and assistant teaching positions.

“Everything will take a hit, and our families are the ones that suffer,” Hammer said.

Human Services Inc. has offered Head Start since 1965 at all its regional locations in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Johnson and Shelby counties. Its main office is in northeastern Bartholomew County, near Clifford.

Head Start is a 100 percent federally funded program that prepares children for kindergarten by teaching them about letters, numbers, sounds, shapes and colors.

Early Head Start, offered since 2010 only in Bartholomew County, helps children up to 3 years old meet development milestones. A family of four can earn no more than $23,550 a year to qualify for either program, Hammer said.

Funding cuts would affect the programs differently, and it would be even worse if the funding cuts turn out to be more than 5.2 percent, she said.

Hammer said Head Start would eliminate 36 of its 382 student positions in the six-county region and probably would have to lay off six teachers under a 5.2-percent funding cut.

About 70 of the 382 Head Start students are from Bartholomew County.

She said Early Head Start would eliminate 12 of its 72 student positions in the region and probably would lay off one teacher.

Some transportation routes for students in the six-county region would have to end as well, forcing parents to get their children to and from school at their own expense, Hammer said.

She did not know which sites would eliminate transportation.

Meals for seniors at stake

A meal program that aids senior citizens in Bartholomew County could serve fewer people if mandated federal spending cuts are enacted.

The number of days homebound meals are delivered and days or hours meal sites are open could be reduced if the cuts are enacted, said Mark Lindenlaub, executive director of Aging & Community Services of South Central Indiana.

The proposed funding cuts come at a time when the number of people going to the meal sites is increasing, he added.

“It’s very frustrating,” Lindenlaub said.

Reductions already were planned to take effect April 1 because of a 10 percent funding cut last year, said Shelia Woods, Aging & Community Services senior nutrition program director.

The agency provides meals through its Senior Nutrition Program in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson and Jennings counties.

Each Monday through Friday, lunches are served at walk-in meal sites, including senior centers and churches, and delivered to homebound residents.

Those who receive meals count on them as their one hot, nutritious meal of the day, Lindenlaub said.

Some meal sites, including the one at Hope Community Center and The Armory apartments, would have days reduced from five to three. Home deliveries would be made three days a week instead of five, although extra meals would be provided to supplement the days missed.

“It’s very critical. We are looking for support and donations,” Woods said, adding that the homebound program also has a waiting list of 100 in its five-county region.

Aging & Community Services operates 17 sites in the five counties as part of its program, Meals for Better Living. In Bartholomew County, the meal sites are at Mill Race Center, Hope Community Center and The Armory senior apartments.

Food at Hope Community Center and The Armory senior apartments is provided at no cost to residents age 60 and older, but donations are encouraged for those who are able to pay. Costs for delivered meals are based on a person’s income and ability to pay.

The food program does more than just provide hot meals, Lindenlaub said. Sites also offer fellowship, exercise, entertainment and educational programs. Homebound seniors receive friendly visits from drivers who check daily to make sure they are all right.

Those who are homebound also go through an individual care plan assessment to determine individual needs and might receive frozen meals to have available to them over the weekend, he said.

The meal program faces a cut of 10.2 percent. Aging & Community Services already was subsidizing the meal program through private donations and grants because federal funding paid only about 57 percent of the costs, Lindenlaub said.

Federal funding last year was $423,859, but with other funding sources about $740,000 is spent on the program with 10,000 to 12,000 meals served to clients each month.

The biggest expense is the meals, Lindenlaub said. Part-time workers staff meal sites, and part-time drivers and volunteers deliver meals. Meal sites are provided for free or at a low cost.

“If we have to save money, it will have to be on the meals themselves,” Lindenlaub said. “We’ll also look at anything we can do to be more efficient, anything to keep the service available to the clients.”

Military, law enforcement

A few operations of Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Jennings County would be affected by the federal spending cuts.

Technicians who help operate the installation, such as providing security and maintaining equipment and the various ranges, would feel the pinch, said Maj. Gen. Omar C. Tooley, the senior mission commander for Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville.

Part-time technicians would lose their jobs, while furloughs would be required for full-time technicians — meaning they would work one less day per week, and lose that day’s pay, Tooley said.

The duties they perform would be spread among other employees to compensate for the reductions in personnel, he said.

Daily operations at the Columbus Police and  Bartholomew County Sheriff’s departments would continue as normal, but representatives of each agency had future concerns.

Indiana could lose about $262,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, the courts and corrections systems.

A few years ago, Sheriff Mark Gorbett unsuccessfully applied for a Justice Assistance Grant to help pay for extra deputies because of the need for more officers on the streets, he said.

In 2015, the next sheriff will have to replace some of the department’s bulletproof vests, said Gorbett, who cannot seek re-election when his term ends at the end of 2014 because of term limits. A Justice Assistance Grant could help pay for the vests, which cost $500 to $800 apiece, he said.

Columbus police spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said the inability to reach a deal on federal spending could lead to cuts remaining in place for a prolonged period.

Wildlife refuge

Jandro Galvan, manager of Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to make sure it can do everything possible to avoid furloughing any employees.

“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Galvan said.

The 7,724-acre refuge is located on the Jackson County line with Jennings County.

Galvan said there are seven people employed at the refuge, and if a budget deal can’t be reached there will be a hiring freeze. The refuge does not have any openings, however.

“We’ll probably have to cut some of our programs,” Galvan said. That includes a Youth Conservation Corps program in which students are hired for projects.

Galvan said refuge officials hope they will be able to continue many of the popular events held at the refuge each year, including Wings over Muscatatuck and National Refuge Week, which ends with Log Cabin Day.

“We do provide a little money for them,” Galvan said of the events, which are mostly organized by volunteers, including those with the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society.

Galvan said the refuge also will likely lose some of its operating funds and see its travel and training curtailed.

The Republic’s Paul Minnis, Brenda Showalter and Kirk Johannesen, and The Tribune of Seymour contributed to this


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