Children at a Head Start school in west Medford know her as Grandma Sandy, a kindly 78-year-old woman who has been a foster grandparent for 13 years.

Children at a Head Start school in west Medford know her as Grandma Sandy, a kindly 78-year-old woman who has been a foster grandparent for 13 years.

Sandy Knutson devotes four hours a day to helping at-risk children get ready for kindergarten.

"It's good for kids, and it keeps us active and busy," Knutson said after reading a story to several children.

Knutson worries about the Foster Grandparent Program as well as Head Start because both would suffer if $85 billion in federal sequestration cuts take effect at midnight Friday because Congress and the White House failed to reach a compromise on the 2013 budget.

"For myself, it wouldn't hurt, but for a lot of people it would be very sad," Knutson said.

In Oregon, $74.7 million in federal dollars would be carved out of food programs for seniors, public health for the poor and job search assistance for the unemployed.

The Medford School District, bracing for another round of cutbacks because of spiraling costs for the Public Employee Retirement System, could see a 10 percent drop in federal dollars next year.

About 3,000 civilian U.S. Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, a $16.5 million loss to the state economy. The U.S. Army would see funding for base operations cut by about $1.6 million in Oregon.

Programs that provide access to vaccinations would be severely cut, and drug abuse treatments also would be cut back.

Head Start would have to turn away 600 children statewide. Of the 1,215 children in Jackson and Josephine counties, about 50 might be cut from the program.

Head Start Director Nancy Nordyke said she feared her organization might have to consider closing early this year, or cut back on its summer class offerings.

Instead of being forced to downsize, Head Start should be expanding its services, Nordyke said.

"We know the model works," she said. "It gives kids an advantage going into school. Also, you can't expect them to learn if they're hungry or have health problems."

Children aren't the only ones who potentially could go hungry as a result of cuts in federal dollars.

Dave Toler, director of Senior and Disability Services, said he worries that a 5 to 10 percent cut could hurt the senior meals program as well as a family caregiver program.

"Is the sky falling? Probably not," he said. "But nobody knows yet what the cuts are going to be."

He said the uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for the senior meals program that serves 1,000 residents a day in Jackson and Josephine counties. Toler said he is projecting a 9 percent reduction, or $75,000, in the meals budget.

Toler said he doesn't have a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program, but, depending on the severity of the cuts, that could change.

"We may have to look at starting to say 'no' to folks," he said.

His program also offers meals at sites in Merlin, Wolf Creek, Grants Pass, Medford, Phoenix and Ashland.

"We might have to look at closing some meal sites," he said.

A caregiver program that serves more than 100 elderly residents in the two counties could see a 9 percent cut, or $60,000, he said.

Toler said the reduction could mean more seniors heading to hospitals or other institutions for health services, and that ultimately would cost taxpayers more money.

Many of the cuts will hurt residents who are already on the edge financially.

Becky Snyder, executive director of Rogue Valley Manor Community Services, said she the foster grandparent program with 83 foster grandparents in Jackson County and 27 in Josephine County could be affected.

Foster grandparent officials anticipate that 14 foster grandparents could lose their positions and their $2.65-an-hour stipend. (Corrected 3/1/13)

Schools with a large number of students from poor families have received extra funding from the federal government. Schools also receive extra funding for children with disabilities.

The Medford School District gets $7.5 million annually from the federal government, but anticipates a loss of $750,000 as a result of the sequestration.

"We're planning for a worst-case scenario of 10 percent," Superintendent Phil Long said.

The district hopes to avoid making staff reductions because of the federal cuts, but will be looking at ways to reduce expenses for supplies, defer purchasing of any new technologies and curtail staff development programs, he said.

With so many budget pressures, both from the state and from the federal government, Long said educators are running on fumes trying to keep the district functioning.

"Our challenge is to keep the focus on kids when everything around us is getting tighter," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.