By: Zoie Albrecht, Summer Government Affairs Intern
We are six months into the 116th Congress. How has Head Start fared so far in the United States House of Representatives?
July marks six months since the 116th Congress first convened in Washington D.C. As we look back on these first six months, this month offers a prime opportunity to reflect on the admirable work and strong bipartisan support shown towards Head Start by both new and returning members of Congress.
Looking at this Congress’ first six months, who has reaffirmed their commitment to America’s most vulnerable children?
Since this past January, strong efforts have been launched by leaders across the Head Start community to inspire new members of Congress to understand the immense value and unique approach of Head Start. Efforts launched by Head Start advocates over the last six months — including, more than 230 meetings with congressional staff and members of Congress, 1,300 letters to members, and numerous member visits to local Head Start centers — have been met with positive results.
Most notably, on June 19th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that includes more than $11.5 billion in funding for Head Start in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. With more than a $1.5 billion increase over Fiscal Year 2019, this recommendation signals a remarkable consensus in the understanding of the value of Head Start. Included in the increase is roughly $750 million dedicated specifically to supporting children and families who have experienced trauma.
The funding included in the House bill reflects the needs that were highlighted by two Dear Colleague letters written this winter. The letter led by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH) called out positive, long-term impacts of Head Start, the importance of its local flexibility, and its strengths in addressing children who have experienced trauma. The letter drew the support of 34 of his Republican House peers. The letter led by Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) focused on the importance of Head Start’s role in reducing individuals’ lifelong healthcare costs, encounters with the child welfare system, and crime rates in adulthood and collected the signatures of 179 of her House Democratic colleagues. Both of these efforts, led by two remarkable Head Start champions, generated invaluable understanding and support among colleagues in the months leading up to critical appropriations decisions.
Head Start Cheers House Passage of Robust Funding Bill
Bill Includes $750 Million to Aid Head Start in Addressing Surge in Childhood Trauma WASHINGTON, DC - The National Head…
This success is due in no small part to the remarkable work that Head Start programs are doing every day as they work with children and families, the success of those who have attended Head Start programs, and the power of the Head Start community as a whole. When the Head Start community is united, our voice can be heard loud and clear by members of Congress making critical decisions that will impact Head Start. Programs and individuals looking to get or stay engaged can work with NHSA to ensure their voice is part of the far-reaching impact too.
With such a strong start to the FY 2020 appropriations process and the inclusion of funding specifically targeted for vulnerable children and families experiencing trauma, it is abundantly clear that members in the House — both Republicans and Democrats — are committed to furthering the Head Start Advantage.
For a look at who’s said what, continue reading below:
Who’s been hitting the road to see Head Start’s magic in person?
In the months leading up to the House’s passage of the appropriations bill, multiple members including, Steve Chabot (R-OH), Barbra Lee (D-CA), Terri Sewell (D-AL), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) made trips to local Head Start centers in their communities. During these trips, local community Head Start leaders had the opportunity to share with their representatives about what Head Start means for their children, families, and community as a whole.
Terri Sewell, a representative from Alabama, was one of the congresswomen able to visit a local Head Start facility in her community. After visiting with community leaders and teachers from Seals Head Start/Early Head Start, she applauded the program for its strong community ties, saying:
I believe it is very important to the parents of students to know they have local leadership that is community-based. These local leaders know more about what the needs of our students are.
Host your own member for a visit! Check out NHSA’s program visit How-To-Guide to get started.
Congressional Action Toolkit
Here are a few ways to reach out to remind elected officials of the critical role that Head Start plays in your…
Who else is a vocal Head Start champion?
In addition to visits to local Head Start programs, numerous members made floor speeches applauding and advocating for Head Start. Among them, Susan Wild (D-PA) made her mark in the freshman class, saying:
“Despite its record of success, Head Start is severely underfunded today. In my home state of Pennsylvania, only 27 percent of eligible children are able to get a slot in a Head Start program. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in pledging to fight to get increased funding for Head Start signed into law so that we renew our commitment to its promise of a future where every child in every ZIP Code can live a life of opportunity.”
Congresswoman Wild represents communities in Pennsylvania that are working around the clock to combat the opioid epidemic, including families and Head Start programs that have made remarkable strides towards supporting those in reaching the point of recovery. Last year was the first year in the last five years that the Lehigh Valley has seen a decrease in drug-related deaths, but Congresswoman Wild knows that there is more we can be doing to address addiction in a family context and that Head Start is a critical part of that equation.
Wild and Sewell are not alone in their adamant vocal support for Head Start programs. Other House members including Pete Aguilar (D-NY), Carol Miller (R-WV), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Tom Cole (R-OK) have also stood out as strong Head Start champions.
Did your members of Congress make the list?
Make sure the people representing you are a part of Head Start’s future successes by joining the Families Unite campaign.
The purpose of the Families Unite campaign is to engage Head Start families in building lasting relationships with their members of Congress. So join us this August through October as the Head Start community takes action to make sure Congress understands, values and invests in Head Start programs.