As the days of government shutdown add up, Alachua County programs have begun to feel the effects on a local level.
The county’s Foster Grandparent Program laid off all 92 volunteer “grandparents” and temporarily reassigned three staff members because it was unable to draw federal funds for the program.
The program matches volunteers more than 55 years old with children who have special needs in daycares and public schools around the county. The volunteers receive a non-taxable stipend payment of $2.65 an hour, according to the Alachua County website.
It will be unavailable until the government shutdown has ended, said Minnie Rolark, a county programs director.
The funding dry-up contradicted what the Corporation of National Services told county representatives.
During a teleconference call last week, local officials were informed the shutdown would not affect the Foster Grandparent Program, according to an email from Alachua County Manager Betty Baker.
“These grandparents are in over 32 sites, in schools, after-school programs and daycares,” Rolark said. “That’s going to be missed.”
Barbara Perry, 72, has volunteered with the program for about nine years at Charles W. Duval Elementary School. She said she was devastated by the layoff, and children will suffer because of it.
“It’s hurt us all, including the kids,” she said. “Some children, they need a hug. They need to call you ‘grandma’ and know that grandma is there to love them and help them and support them in their education.”
Candie Nixon, director for CHOICES, said relaying the news to the volunteers and schools was disheartening.
“The foster grandparents were shocked and surprised at being laid off,” she said. “Some of the volunteers voiced concerns regarding the teachers’ and students’ ability to get along without their assistance.”
The program’s three permanent staff members have temporarily been reassigned to CHOICES, a program that provides health education to residents.
CHOICES will officially end in December, said Rolark, and if the government shutdown is still in effect after then, the transferred staff members will be unemployed.
Baker said for the employees’ sake, she hopes the shutdown ends soon.
“Since it was a grant-funded program, they would have been laid off on the very day the memo went out,” she said. “So we temporarily reassigned them with the hope this can be resolved before that.”
Though the program is not operational, Rolark said she is confident it will kick back into gear when the shutdown ends.
“As soon as we’re able to draw down funds to be able to pay volunteers and staff, we should be able to notify volunteers that the layoff status is over,” she said. “If volunteers are still interested in being foster grandparents, we’ll let them know when the program is back.”
A version of this story ran on page 5 on 10/8/2013 under the headline "‘Grandparents’ laid off because of shutdown"