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July 2011 U.S. Poverty Action

Generate Media in Support of Head Start and Child Care

Take Action: Write Letters the Editor or Opinion Pieces to Protect Children from Losing Vital Early Childhood Development (and Other) Services

  1. Respond to a piece in your local newspaper about the negotiations in Washington to reach a deal on the budget deficit/debt ceiling.
  2. Inform readers that key services for low-income working families, including investments in early childhood development programs like Head Start and child care, as well as Medicaid and SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program), are at risk as policymakers finagle over a deal.
  3. Remind your audience that access to quality and affordable child care enables low-income parents to work and provides at-risk children with the early learning they need to succeed in school and life.
  4. Tell them that these programs make a big difference — a recent University of Minnesota study shows that children in the quality early childhood programs stay in school longer, graduate from high school at higher rates, and attain higher socio-economic status as adults. As a result, we as a society benefit through reduced need for special education and social services, better health outcomes, lower criminal justice costs, and increased self-sufficiency among families. (or you might share what you learned during site visits to local early childhood programs and the impact they have in the community.)
  5. Explain that despite this success, Congress is now looking to dramatically cut early childhood services in the name of deficit reduction. In funding levels laid out in the House budget resolution, the bill that funds Head Start faces over a fifteen percent cut in funding for 2012, meaning X number (see the chart below for state-by-state numbers) children in your state could lose Head Start services next year, and many more are at risk in the next decade. This will undermine the growth and development of these children and cost jobs as parents lose child care and program staff are laid off.
  6. Urge your senators and representative by name to ensure a smarter, healthier, and more productive America by supporting child care, Head Start, Early Head Start, and other key investments that support low-income working families. Specifically, urge them to support:
    • A $1.2 billion funding increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant for FY 2012
    • A total funding allotment of $8.1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start for FY 2012.
    • Only deficit reduction plans that protect low-income Americans and do not increase poverty. This means any budget deal must be fair and balanced and include new revenue s a part of the final package.

Note: To find contact information for media outlets in your area, including telephone numbers and addresses, visit our Media Guide at http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/media/. In addition, see our Activist Toolkit pieces on writing a letter to the editor and generating an op-ed and send your published piece to your member of Congress. We will update this action sheet as needed if and when Congress moves forward with a deficit reduction deal. Please check the online version (http://tinyurl.com/RESULTSJulyAction) for updated talking points if you are not sure how to frame your media piece.

Protect America’s Children by Maintaining Head Start and Child Care Funding

Head Start is a comprehensive program for low-income preschool aged children, mostly 3- and 4-year-olds, and their families. Head Start addresses the whole child, by providing school readiness and education, health services including dental and mental health, nutrition assistance, supports to families, and opportunities for parents to participate in decision-making. Early Head Start offers similar services to infants and toddlers and their families. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) provides a block grant of funding to states for child care assistance to help low-income working families become and remain independent.

A recent field study from the University of Minnesota found that children who participated in quality early childhood education programs were more likely to stay in school, graduate from high school, attain higher socio-economic status, and get higher paying jobs. In addition, Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman has found that early childhood education for at-risk children is a ”cost efficient and effective investment in preventing downstream problems in education, health, social and economic productivity.” Estimates show that for every one dollar invested in early childhood programs, society saves seven dollars in future costs.

Despite the long success of Head Start and CCDBG, inadequate funding has resulted in long-waiting lists and service cuts. Fortunately, in 2009 Congress provided much-needed funding increases for both Head Start and CCDBG through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As a result, over 200,000 new children and their families received child care assistance and 7,000 new Head Start/Early Head Start classrooms opened. In addition, thousands of jobs were created.

Unfortunately, the new Congress wants to dramatically cut funding for these and other critical low-income programs. The House Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds Head Start and CCDBG, has been directed to cut over $20 billion from its budget, roughly 15 percent of its budget. These cuts will inevitably result in steep cuts to Head Start and child care services — here is what a 15.2 percent cut could mean for enrollment for Head Start:

State # of children who would lose Head Start services with a 15.2% cut State # of children who would lose Head Start services with a 15.2% cut State # of children who would lose Head Start services with a 15.2% cut
Alabama 2,644 Louisiana 3,436 Ohio 6,048
Alaska 283 Maine 605 Oklahoma 2,212
Arizona 2,149 Maryland 1,656 Oregon 1,783
Arkansas 1,705 Massachusetts 2,044 Pennsylvania 5,655
California 15,995 Michigan 5,499 Rhode Island 461
Colorado 1,616 Minnesota 1,647 South Carolina 2,013
Connecticut 1,087 Mississippi 4,170 South Dakota 454
Delaware 334 Missouri 2,825 Tennessee 2,633
Florida 5,837 Montana 470 Texas 11,059
Georgia 3,822 Nebraska 829 Utah 893
Hawaii 484 Nevada 471 Vermont 240
Idaho 476 New Hampshire 268 Virginia 2,203
Illinois 6,415 New Jersey 2,431 Washington 1,871
Indiana 2,361 New Mexico 1,199 West Virginia 1,228
Iowa 1,237 New York 7,804 Wisconsin 2,204
Kansas 1,333 North Carolina 3,180 Wyoming 277
Kentucky 2,583 North Dakota 381 TOTAL 130,509

The Senate has yet to set its Labor-HHS budget but there is pressure to make cuts there as well. When low-income families are struggling to make ends meet and research confirms the savings investments in early childhood programs create, these cuts will serve to undermine the economic security of millions of families (and our nation) for years to come.

Right now, Congress is focused almost exclusively on the debt ceiling/deficit reduction debate. In fact, the Senate canceled its July 4 recess to hammer out a deal. And while the deficit reduction debate is much broader than our work on early childhood issues, both are inextricably intertwined. Whatever deficit reduction deal is finally made, it will have an impact on the 2012 budget and beyond. We need to keep laying the groundwork to ensure that when it finally does come time to allocate specific funding levels for Head Start, Early Head Start and CCDBG, the momentum will already be there to protect these important services.

Why Focus on Getting Coverage in Local Newspapers?

Media work is an essential part of any advocacy strategy. It holds members of Congress accountable for their actions. Congressional offices still pay close attention to print media in their states and districts to see what constituents care about. What better way to get their attention than to call them by name to protect critical early childhood services through a medium that is read by potentially thousands of people in your community. It is also a great way to educate the general public about these issues and sway public opinion in favor of helping at-risk children. Therefore, this month we are urging you to take action by writing a letter to the editor or Op-ed to your local paper, urging members of Congress by name to protect Head Start and child care in this year’s budget. Your media pieces will go a long way in building the political will we need to protect America’s vulnerable children.

As RESULTS’ new Publications and Content manager Laura Ochoa outlines in her recent blog post:

As the former deputy press secretary for a high-profile U.S. Senator, I will tell you firsthand that congressional offices closely follow print media in their states or districts. So, this week as we ask you to write letters to the editor or opinion-editorials to your local papers, know that these do make a difference. By writing a letter or op-ed to your local paper, you are highlighting relevant issues for members of your community who might not have known about the issue, or the tangible ways in which we can fix it. You may unknowingly be recruiting new grassroots volunteers, passionate about the cause, but who now have resources through RESULTS to get involved.

It is also essential to call on members of Congress — by name — to hold them accountable for their actions. If you think your letter or op-ed is not being read, you’re wrong. It is how those in Washington keep a finger on the pulse of Constituents’ wants and needs. These letters and op-eds in your local paper are compiled by Congressional staffers and usually handed directly to your member of Congress. If you are calling him or her by name, that Representative or Senator knows everyone in their community has seen this, and may be more likely to take action.

We will have more about the July Action on our monthly national conference call (July 9 at 12:30 pm ET). To participate, call (888) 409-6709 with your group by 12:28 pm ET. Also, some members of your group may choose to focus on other key supports for low-income working families that face grave danger in a deficit reduction deal. We urge you to check out the Coalition of Human Needs’ (of which we are a proud member) Budget Toolkit for other sample letters.