TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The federal government shutdown is complicating life for a lot of parents who depend on the Head Start pre-school program for their children.
Nearly 400 children are locked out of Head Start programs in north Florida. That leaves a lot of parents scrambling to coordinate other child care arrangements.
Victoria Thomas is a single mom struggling with that unexpected dilemma.
Thomas is in her last semester before graduating from Florida A&M University and she's not quite sure how to respond to the loss of Head Start services for her four-year-old daughter Faith.
"What I'll have to do is take her to school with me or I'll have to pay a babysitter to watch her for a couple of hours. I really can't afford it. I'll have to take out student loans to help pay for that and that'll put me more in debt."
Head Start students like Faith receive a wide range of services: breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks, medical and dental care, and valuable lessons helping them prepare for kindergarten.
Thomas says she's very frustrated by the government shutdown.
"This is my last semester so I'm finally at the finish line. I do have job offers coming forward and as soon as I'm about to graduate, this happens."
Tim Center of the Capital Area Community Action Agency, which operates Head Start programs in three counties, says a lot of parents can't afford to stay home from work to take care of their children.
"We'd hate to see parents lose a job because they couldn't go to work and have to stay home with their children. We hate to see the kids not advance in getting ready for kindergarten."
The federal government shutdown also affects about 100 Head Start employees in north Florida.
The timing couldn't be worse for them.
Employees have already seen their paychecks cut by about 20 percent this summer due to the sequestration budget cuts.
Head Start director Laurie Gan Leiner says they were scheduled to return to work full-time on October 1, but then the government shut down.
"It's extremely discouraging, especially on top of what they've been enduring with the sequestration and not knowing when Congress will come back and stop the shutdown is also stressful to everybody."