John and Laura Arnold of Houston pledged $10 million to keep the preschool program open for the next month in six states including Georgia.
“It’s still depending on government and everything on how long we’ll be up,” said Teresa Franklin, director of Rabun County Head Start. “Hopefully, they’ll get something going in the next few weeks.”
Kay Laws, Head Start director for Ninth District Opportunity Inc., said without the Arnolds’ donation programs in 20 counties served by the organization would remain closed until Congress passes a federal budget. Parents would have had to scramble for daycare for their children.
“Preschool children are missing out on a great opportunity and getting prepared for kindergarten,” Laws said when asked what could happen if there is a prolonged budget impasse. “Studies show that children that have high quality preschool education are much more successful later in school.”
Because the brain goes through most of its development between birth and the age of 5, Laws said preschool was a good investment.
Children of other ages could see their educational supported hamstrung by the government shutdown.
Rabun County Schools Superintendent Matt Arthur said 75 percent of public school students in Rabun qualified for the federally funded free or reduced lunch program. The program currently is financed by a carryover of money from the fiscal year 2012 budget and some fiscal year 2013 appropriations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If the shutdown continues until the end of October or into November, that funding might dry up.
“If that happens, we would have to pick it up ourselves,” Arthur said. “Because we are going to feed children.”
Other federally funded programs, such as the Title I and Title VI programs, have a little bit longer safety valve before funding dries up, Arthur said. Title I provides federal funds to teach math and English/language arts in low-income areas, and all schools qualify for it in Rabun. Title VI provides funding for special education.
“We could have to make some pretty hard decisions if this thing continues on for months and months and months,” Arthur said.
More than 5,000 federal employess who have been furloughed have filed for unemployment insurance in Georgia, said Georgia Department of Labor spokesman Sam Hall.
Many of those employees work and live in Rabun County. A call to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest district office in Gainesville is met with a recording. Callers are directed to visit www.usda.gov for updates about public health and safety.
Those who rely on unemployment insurance don’t have to worry about getting their checks. Hall said those collecting unemployment benefits after losing private sector jobs would not be affected. That expense if paid by private employers. Federal employees who have been furloughed through no fault of their own will be eligible for benefits. Hall said the state Labor Department administered the unemployment program and would be reimbursed dollar for dollar by the federal government.
Labor Department employees have been swamped with people filing new claims. Hall said about half of the claims had been filed in cities near military bases, such as Columbus and Augusta. He encouraged federal employees to apply online at www.gdol.ga.gov.