About 57,000 poor children will lose access to federally-subsidized preschool because of across-the-board U.S. spending cuts this year, a smaller number than the Obama administration previously said might be affected.
The figures released today by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department are based on estimates from organizations that run the Head Start programs. The Obama administration warned earlier this year that automatic spending reductions that started in March might affect as many as 70,000 children.
The federal cutbacks this year eliminated about $400 million from Head Start, the deepest spending reduction since the program was created in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty to prepare impoverished children for school.
Head Start is one of dozens of programs affected by the spending cuts that were implemented this year after President Barack Obama and Congress failed to agree on how to reduce the deficit. The reductions were part of a 2011 agreement to raise the debt limit and were intended to be so unpalatable to both Republicans and Democrats that they would come up with a way to avoid it.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department, didn’t return a phone message or e-mail requests for comment on the cuts.
The federal government in 2012 spent $8 billion on Head Start, providing funding for 956,000 children five years old and younger. Because of the mandatory budget cuts, the human services department said it would reduce spending on Head Start by 5 percent, to about $7.6 billion.
The cuts applied equally to the funding of all Head Start programs, run by school districts, community groups and for-profit preschools that receive grants to administer it. Some localities used their own funds to make up for the diminished federal spending for the free programs.
The impact was spread across the country, according to the data released today. The most-populous U.S. state, California, had the most children estimated to lose access to the program, 5,611. It was followed by Texas, where 4,410 slots were eliminated, and New York, which lost 3,847.
At least 18,000 employees were affected by pay or job cuts, and schools reduced the number of days and hours that they operate.