Sequester means $400,000 loss for local Head Start, Meals on Wheels programs

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LEANDER — Williamson-Burnet County Opportunities, Inc. (WBCO) is being forced to cut back almost $400,000 from its senior Meals on Wheels and Head Start programs due to federal spending decreases caused by sequestration. The organization, which serves Williamson and Burnet counties, offers emergency assistance to clients, is involved with affordable housing programs and operates Meals on Wheels and Head Start – is trimming from its $14.2 million overall annual budget wherever it can afford to, according to Scott Ferguson, WBCO director of development.

The organization’s two main programs, Meals on Wheels and Head Start, are the most affected by the budget slashes.

WBC Opportunities operates the Bagdad Head Start and Early Head Start for infants and children up to age 5 in Leander, as well as the Meals on Wheels program at the senior center at the same location on North Bagdad Road.

The Meals on Wheels program will likely lose between $26,000 to $42,000, which could mean a potential 4,800 to 7,700 less meals to seniors who are not able to provide food for themselves.

To give an idea of the impact, Ferguson said WBCO served 161,000 meals to 1,400 seniors through Meals on Wheels in 2012. Head Start is losing $357,000 funding. The program educates children under age 5.

“The cuts were retroactive to the beginning of our grant period. Head Start has to have the cuts implemented and savings realized by Nov. 30. Meals on Wheels cuts have already been implemented,” Ferguson said.

The impact of the cuts has already been felt by the organization’s clients as Meals on Wheels now has a waiting list for the first time. However, services for seniors and children will remain unchanged.

“We’ve been able for years and years, to not have a waiting list. However, we have to have money to buy the food. The volunteers can deliver the food and help out with seniors but it costs money to buy the food. That’s why we have the waiting list, because of the funding. We’ve reduced the staff in that program as bare bones as we can. We continue to look for ways to find efficiencies but we were already doing that so much. We are limited on what savings we can find,” Ferguson said.

Services are based on the highest level of need. Those determined to have a lower level of need are placed on the waiting list.

“That’s a very hard choice to make because they are all qualified,” he added.

Head Start may also suffer some staff cuts.

“For Head Start, we are looking at some possible reductions in staff as well as decreased hours of operation. We may be open less days when summer rolls around. We are also decreasing training of our staff significantly,” Ferguson said.

The cuts in staff and in funding have been across the board and will affect the centers in Taylor and Round Rock just like the other locations throughout Williamson and Burnet counties.

Ferguson said the community has also been helpful to the nonprofit but its monetary donations and volunteerism is welcome more than ever.

“There are several ways the community can help us. With Meals on Wheels, if they donate money, we can buy more food and supplies such as trays to put the food on and deliver it. Financial gifts can really help us. They can donate through the website or by phone or mail us a check. We buy everything in large bulk so that we can spend the money more efficiently,” he explained.

The community can make a difference to the Head Start program by donating diapers, baby wipes, art supplies, new crayons, manila paper and copy paper.

“We are really grateful for the partnership with the community. They’ve already been so supportive. They provide volunteer help and referrals of clients who need help. Anything they can do until that money is restored into the budget in the future is helpful,” Ferguson added.

For more information or to donate, contact WBCO at (512) 763-1400 or www.wbco.net.

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