The only ones left in Room 5 at the Whitney Young Head Start Center are the two
turtles thrashing around a small aquarium. The reading nook is empty. The CD
player is silent.
After more than a dozen years, this federally funded center serving mostly Latino families closed its doors for good on Friday, a victim of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
For its Spanish-speaking families, the center in the basement of a sooty housing project has taught their children English, fed them, provided medical care and prepared them to be ready for kindergarten without the academic deficits common among poor students.
"When I found out, for five nights I couldn't sleep, thinking about it," said Maireny Cammacho, a 33-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic whose two sons attended the center.
Cammacho is eight months pregnant and works as a medical assistant. Her husband delivers Little Debbie cakes to supermarkets in predawn hours. Head Start has been the fulcrum that has kept their lives in balance. "I don't know what I'm going to do," Cammacho said.
Federal sequestration has turned out to be less dire than predicted in many areas, as some agencies have found ways around the worst of the mandatory cuts. But for poor people who are heavily reliant on government social services, the cuts have had sharp and immediate effects. That is particularly true for Latinos.
Hispanics make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population, but comprise a third or more of those who use federal housing subsidies, job training and other social programs that have been put under the sequestration knife.
In Head Start, about 23,000 Latino children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old have been dropped from the program.
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