PARIS — Early-education programs in Oxford and Franklin counties have qualified for stimulus money and will receive additional federal funds this year.

Community Concepts Inc. will receive $318,743 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The funds will go toward Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Deb Florenz, director of children’s services at Community Concepts, said the programs receive the majority of their funding through the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a small contract from the state. The stimulus money has to be used by Sept. 30 of next year, she said.

“It really did have to do with enhancing the skills of our staff or retaining employment of staff,” Florenz said.

She said some of the money will be earmarked for a 1.84 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees. It will also be used as one-time support to help fund an increase in the cost of health insurance for employees, to adjust salaries for workers who were found to earn below-average wages for comparable positions and to renovate a Franklin County site.

In addition, some of the funds will be used to hire a manager to help work through partnerships with public schools.

Head Start programs include child development, parenting, nutrition and mental health services, and are offered in both home and classroom settings, Florenz said. The programs are for infants and toddlers, preschoolers and pregnant women, and are offered through 14 facilities in the two counties. In addition, Community Concepts partners with 14 child-care organizations and four public schools. The programs serve 536 children and employ 145 full- and part-time people.

“The rationale behind the work we do with families is really to help children prepare to enter public schools and be successful,” Florenz said.

According to a news release from the National Head Start Association, $2.1 billion was made available to the programs through the stimulus bill. The association had requested $4.3 billion.

The most recent federal funding, which is allocated on an annual basis, included a 3.06 percent cost-of-living increase, Florenz said. “That is really wonderful after years of being flat-funded or (getting) small increases.” 

However, Florenz added, Community Concepts will no longer be able to bill Medicaid for child health programs and state funding is being reduced due to budget difficulties.

“We have some good news from the federal government and some not-so-good news from the state government,” she said.

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