Donors come to aid of Georgia pre-k kids affected by federal shutdown


State veterans office closed to visitors

The Georgia Department of Veterans Services announced Monday the first impact from the federal government shutdown: The department’s claims and appeals division is now closed to visitors.

The decision was made after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ regional office in Atlanta announced it would close a federal office building on Clairmont Road in Decatur to visitors beginning Tuesday because of the shutdown. The claims and appeals division is located within that building.

Officials said the division remains fully staffed, and can assist veterans making claims by phone or through email. For more information, log on to http://veterans.georgia.gov/claims-and-appeals-division.

Otherwise, all 49 field services offices of the department remain open with no programmatic or staffing cuts planned.

Veterans can continue to apply for federal and state benefits. State benefit applications will be filed and processed normally. Federal applications will be filed normally, although how quickly those applications are processed may be affected as the shutdown affects other aspects of the federal Veterans Affairs Department. Federal VA officials, however, expect processing to continue normally unless the shutdown continues into late October.

VA hospitals and outpatient clinics in Georgia will also remain open through the shutdown.

Since a portion of the state’s veterans budget comes from federal funding, it is possible a long-term shutdown could have greater effect, but officials said they remain optimistic for now.

— Kristina Torres

More than 3,000 of Georgia’s youngest children were victims of the federal government shutdown — at least for a day.

The children attend pre-k, Head Start or Early Head Start programs in 20 counties, including Cherokee, Cobb and Gwinnett.

The programs were closed Monday, and parents were told they would remain that way until the stalemate in Washington was over.

It didn’t take an act of Congress to reopen them, though. It took a billionaire and his wife.

Philanthropists Laura and John Arnold on Monday offered $10 million in emergency funding to help these programs — and ones in five other states — keep their doors open for the next three or four weeks.

“Hopefully by then, there will be some resolution in Washington or a way to secure some other funding source,” said Kay Laws, the Head Start and pre-k director for Ninth District Opportunity Inc., a Gainesville-based nonprofit that operates the programs. “Having to close our centers was a terrible situation. Many of our parents had to take time off from work or arrange other care for their children.”

On Monday, parents had to scramble to find temporary child care for the children — 1,112 pre-k 4-year-olds and 2,153 children, ages newborn to 5, in Head Start.

Now, their worries are over— at least temporarily. Classes will be back in session Tuesday.

The seven programs receiving donations from the Arnolds, including Ninth District Opportunity, had federal contracts that expired Oct. 1 that could not be renewed because of the federal shutdown.

Laws said that if, after the federal shutdown concludes, the government provides sufficient funding for Head Start programs for a 52-week period, the programs will repay the Arnolds at no interest.

Nationally, about 7,000 children in low-income homes have been affected by the shutdown.

The pre-k children who were affected are in classes that combine both Head Start and pre-k children.

Parent Sam Taylor was elated at the news

“I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m thankful that someone came forward, and I’m thankful my kid can go to school.”

Taylor had to put daughter Caitlyn, 4, in private day care Monday because her pre-k class at the C.T. Buice Center in Sugar Hill was closed.

Kim Holland, the principal at Buice, said staff called 83 parents Monday morning to tell them that their children’s pre-k and Head Start classes would reopen Tuesday.

“They are very excited, as we are,” Holland said.

Laws said the nonprofit will have to watch every penny for the immediate future.

“We’re going to be operating under constraints — doing only what is absolutely necessary,” she said. “We will not be doing any training or any unnecessary travel. We’re only ordering supplies and consumables for the here and now, where in the past, we’d be ordering a month’s worth of supplies.”

The National Head Start Association is predicting that, if the government does not reopen by Nov. 1, an additional 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. territory stand to lose acces to Head Start services.

The vast majority of Georgia’s pre-k program is funded by lottery ticket sales, not federal money. But the state also has blended Head Start and pre-k programs — including those that closed Monday — that operate on a mix of federal and state dollars.

“In those cases, Georgia pre-k funds pay for classroom instruction, while Head Start funds pay for additional services,” said Bobby Cagle, who has oversight of pre-k as commissioner of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.

Arnold made his fortune as a hedge fund manger, specializing in natural gas trading, for Enron and later his own company. He and his wife, Laura, donated more than $100 million to different causes in 2011 and pledged or gave away $423 million in 2012, according to news reports. Giving to education has been one of their foundation’s priorities.