Leadership

Government Shutdown: Head Start Protest Draws Hundreds to Capitol Hill

By / Oct 2, 2013 The National Head Start Association's rally drew hundreds—including members of Congress. (photo via the NHSA's Twitter page)

The National Head Start Association held a rally on Wednesday to draw attention to the impact of the federal shutdown, which halted the flow of funds to Head Start programs in 11 states.

A number of Head Start programs nationwide got left behind on Tuesday morning.

That’s because the government shutdown cut off their federal funding, leaving thousands of poor and at-risk preschoolers around the country in a tough spot. The National Head Start Association is working to draw attention to the difficulties nearly two dozen programs nationwide are facing. More details:

The reaction: As NHSA notes, at least 23 programs spread out across 11 states didn’t receive their annual federal grant money due to the shutdown, leaving as many as 19,000 preschool students without services. In a press release issued before the rally, the association said that the current funding crisis is causing additional pain for a program already suffering from the effects of sequestration. “On the heels of devastating sequester cuts, which closed windows of opportunity for more the than 57,000 at-risk children who lost their Head Start slots, Washington’s budget battles have harmed even more of America’s most vulnerable families,” said NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci. Many programs have been running on already available funds (though no new funds will be allotted), but some programs have closed entirely. A program in western Massachusetts that had just started its school year on Monday due to sequestration-related budget cuts only remains open now because the state stepped in with funding to ensure it could continue to operate for two more weeks.

The rally: Backed by a social media campaign, the association held a protest in front of the U.S. Capitol that was attended by several members of Congress, including Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). At least 400 NHSA members were in town this week for a leadership conference, which had been scheduled to include a meeting with officials from the federal Office of Head Start, according to The Washington Post. Mary Lee Freeze, a Community Action of Northeast Indiana Head Start director, told Washington, DC, ABC affiliate WJLA that her program’s fiscal year starts on November 1. “The October 1 programs? Their money’s cut,” she said. “They have no money to operate. They’ll probably close their doors.”

Likewise, a program in Talladega, Alabama, was forced to close its doors after the federal fiscal year began on October 1. “We have no choice,” Cheaha Regional Head Start program director Dora Jones told NPR. “If you don’t have staff to operate, then parents can’t bring the children. We have no funds to pay the staff. I legally had money to pay people through yesterday’s work, and that’s it.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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