April 2011 U.S. Poverty Action

Take Action! Write Letters to Protect Jobs and Important Early Childhood Development Services in 2012

Updated: May 17, 2011

On April 8, with only minutes left before a government shutdown occurred, a deal was finally made a deal to finalize the FY 2011 federal budget. Although the final bill has some $38 billion in budget cuts, Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care assistance were for the most part spared. This was in great part due to the hard work of RESULTS volunteers and other advocates working together to push back against drastic cuts to these programs.

It is critical that Congress continue these important supports for working families in 2012. On April 5, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced his FY 2012 budget package, which proposes to cap overall government spending dramatically. America’s children are our most important investment; tell Congress to protect their future and the jobs they represent by providing the necessary funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, and the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in FY 2012. Use these talking points to draft handwritten letters to representatives and senators and fax your letters to Congress ASAP (and send them also to their local offices to ensure they are received).

  1. Introduce yourself to your representative or senator as a constituent and as a RESULTS volunteer. Tell them you are focused on the urgent need to protect children enrolled in Head Start and child care programs.
  2. Inform them these Head Start and child care enable low-income parents to access reliable child care while they work and provide at-risk children with the early learning experiences they need for success in school and life.
  3. Also tell them that society benefits from these programs through reduced need for special education and remediation, better health outcomes, reduced need for social services, lower criminal justice costs, and increased self-sufficiency and productivity among families.
  4. Express that you are pleased that the FY 2011 budget largely spares Head Start and child care from serious budget cuts. This means that hundreds of thousands of at-risk children and their families will still receive these critical services. This funding will also save thousands of jobs that are helping our slow economic recovery.
  5. Explain however that if these programs are severely cut in 2012, all the progress we’ve made will disappear. Proposals like the House FY 2012 budget are a radical abandonment of the social compact while doing little to solve our fiscal woes. They will, however, devastate the lives of millions of American families.
  6. Ask your senators and representative to ensure a smarter, healthier, and more productive America by supporting child care, Head Start, Early Head Start, and other early childhood programs. Specifically, tell them to urge Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) or House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to allocate an increase of $1.2 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and a total allotment of $8.1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start in FY 2012. These levels will sustain effective, high-quality services for at-risk, low-income children and their families across the nation.
  7. Thank them for their time and ask for a prompt response to your letter.

Note: To find contact information, including telephone numbers and addresses for congressional offices and the name of the early childhood aide, visit our Elected Officials page (http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/officials/). For directory assistance, you can also contact the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Also, Congress will be on recess from April 15 through May 1. Use this opportunity to set up face-to-face meetings and/or ask a question at town hall meetings in your home districts to talk about funding for early learning programs.

Protecting Services in 2011 and 2012

RESULTS has spent a great deal of effort so far in 2011 at protecting funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care assistance programs. These programs have proven successful time and again at helping vulnerable children receive the foundation they need to succeed in school and beyond. Unfortunately, only one in six eligible children receives child care assistance, only five percent of eligible infants and toddlers participate in Early Head Start and less than half of eligible preschool-age children access the comprehensive supports of Head Start. And, budget cuts are threatening to erode the successes we’ve had once again. Fortunately, in 2009 Congress provided $2 billion each in new funding for both Head Start and CCDBG through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As a result, over 200,000 children and their families were able to receive child care assistance and 7,000 Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms opened. In addition, thousands of jobs were created. The task now is to protect the advances and fend off reckless cuts that save little money but do much greater harm.

In February, the House passed their FY 2011 budget, H.R.1, on February 18, which included substantial cuts to Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care assistance. As a result of these cuts, 368,000 low-income children would have lost services and tens of thousands of jobs would have been lost.

Fortunately, the Senate refused to pass H.R.1 and negotiators worked for two months to arrive at a compromise, which was finally passed by the House and Senate on April 14. Although many programs will see significant cuts in this final budget, Head Start and Early Head Start will see a $340 million increase in funding, which will ensure that current enrollment is maintained (including the slots created by ARRA). CCDBG will receive a $100 million increase, which will protect some of the children served under ARRA, but not all. While these levels are not ideal, RESULTS volunteers can be proud of their work to protect Head Start and child care; it is their advocacy along with efforts from our allies that protected these programs during the intense budget negotiations.

But we have little time to rest. The House and Senate have already begun work on their 2012 budgets. On April 5, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) proposed his FY 2012 budget. It makes radical changes to the way our government serves its people with provisions like turning Medicaid and SNAP into block grants and converting Medicare into a voucher program. These changes will results in major service cuts by shifting the cost of health care and other necessities onto states and consumers. In addition, his budget will cut non-defense domestic discretionary spending by $500 billion over the next five years. Head Start and child care, along with other programs like community health centers, Pell grants, and other public services are part of this section of the budget. It is unlikely any of these and other important programs will escape harmful cuts under such a drastic proposal. To add insult to injury, the House budget also provides trillions in tax cuts for wealthy Americans and corporations. The House approved their FY 2012 budget on April 15, 2011 by a vote of 235-193. Consistent with this proposal, the House Appropriations Committee has released its proposed budget caps for each of the Appropriations Subcommittees. The Labor-HHS subcommittee which oversees Head Start and child care funding could see a $25 billion cut in FY 2012.

Fortunately, the Senate will not pass the Ryan proposal. But that is no guarantee that Head Start and child care services will be protected. We must build on our success in the FY 2011 budget by maintaining most of these vital services in FY 2012. Congress must pass $1.3 billion in new funding for CCDBG and $865 million for Head Start/Early Head Start in FY 2012 to sustain these high-quality services for low-income children and families. America’s children are our most important investment; tell Congress to protect their future and the jobs they represent by providing the necessary funding for Head Start and CCDBG in FY 2012.

Responding to the Head Start Critics

In the very charged atmosphere of Washington, politicians are looking for any excuse to cut programs they don’t like. Unfortunately, Head Start is a common target for these cuts. However, these people realize that Head Start is popular and thus look for justifications in cutting it. RESULTS volunteers may encounter some of these arguments when interacting with members of Congress and their staff. Here are some responses that might help when you hear them.

Budgets are very tight right now and everyone needs to sacrifice. We simply can’t afford programs like Head Start.

I acknowledge that the deficit is a problem we need to address. But cutting Head Start won’t solve the deficit problem. Head Start’s budget is just 0.2 percent of the federal budget. Cutting it won’t even make a dent in the deficit. Furthermore, we cannot simply cut for cutting’s sake. We need to make sure we protect the programs that not only work, but are cost effective. Head Start is one of those programs. Studies show that investing in early learning programs now saves us much down the road in reduced need for special education, better health outcomes for children, lower criminal justice costs, and increased self-sufficiency and productivity. Head Start is an investment in our future, and one that pays off handsome dividends.

I’ve read reports that Head Start’s effectiveness wears off around 3rd grade or sooner. Why should we put money into something that doesn’t work?

I too have seen these reports. Unfortunately, their arguments are flawed. First, the fact that Head Start’s impact can be measured up to the 3rd grade shows that it works. Remember that Head Start is designed to give at-risk children the intellectual and social foundation they need to succeed in school and beyond. It is not a gifted and talented program. So the fact that Head Start kids are leveling off with their peers in the 3rd grade means that it is doing what it’s supposed to do.

Second, these studies only look at cognitive abilities, which is like grading the test but only looking at half the answers. They don’t measure the social impact Head Start has on these children. Social-emotional skills like persistence, attention, motivation and the ability to work in groups are critical elements of a child’s education, and Head Start meets the challenge. Head Start graduates tend to be more persistent in their education, more inclined to healthy behaviors and less inclined to be involved in criminal activity. They also graduate from high school, go to college and get jobs at higher rates than their at-risk children who don’t have access to early childhood education.

Finally, Head Start is a unique program as it focuses on the “whole child.” In addition to providing pre-school education, Head Start also provides nutrition assistance, health and dental screenings, and encourages strong parental involvement. But once they leave the program, they are often entering underfunded and overcrowded public schools. If anything, this shows that we need to do more to support our public school system than cut Head Start.

The Larger Battle: Strengthening America’s Values and Economy for All

The challenges facing us as we work to protect funding for Head Start, child care and other key supports for low-income families will be part of a larger battle over budget cuts and deficit reduction. RESULTS is part of a new campaign called SAVE For All (Strengthening America’s Values and Economy for All) — see the SAVE Statement of Principles. The time to stand up for these programs and the people they support is NOW. Tune in to the April National Conference Call for details.