Government shutdown strips Head Start for the nation’s most vulnerable

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by Colleen Flaherty/ Photo courtesy of Howard County Library System

As the government shutdown carries on thanks to a refusal to compromise on health care by a GOP faction in the U.S. House of Representatives, many families are facing real consequences. The government has closed and stopped funding on all federal government programs deemed “nonessential.”

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Kim Gray is bracing himself for the impact of the shutdown.

“As of right now, because a deal wasn’t passed last night, we will be closed after Friday this week,” said Gray, site manager of the Rock Hill Head Start Center, which is one of eight centers in South Carolina that will close.

Rock Hill serves more than 260 children who are among the 19,000 students across the country who will lose access to these critical services because of the federal government shutdown. This is on top of the 57,000 children that were already cut from Head Start thanks to the reckless, across-the-board sequester cuts. In addition to offering preschool classes to low-income families, Head Start also provides meals, special education services and other basic health care that these children wouldn’t receive otherwise.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration for Children and Families will discontinue several grants, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Child Welfare services. “Additionally, new discretionary grants, including Head Start and social services programs, would not be made.”

This will hurt some Head Start programs more than others. Some states have not been able to make up for the funding lost thanks to the sequester cuts. In Florida, several Head Start centers have already closed their doors.

“There’s an old saying I heard recently – when elephants fight, the grass suffers. When Congress fights, the littlest ones suffer. Even the parents are suffering,” said Gray.

Gray began getting calls from concerned parents last week. Parents are worried about their children missing school, and many of the families have few options without Head Start.

“A lot of our families can’t afford childcare,” said Gray. “This will affect the children, but it also hurts the family.”

While these families will have difficulty, Gray is most concerned about the level of concern politicians have for his program.

“This level of education is not nonessential. They need this,” said Gray. “We are the first line for parents who can’t sent their kids elsewhere. The folks on the very bottom are the ones who need it the most.”

For the students Gray works with, Head Start is so much more than “just daycare.” Head Start programs prepare our nation’s most at-risk children for school. They learn social skills and other important skills to ready them for kindergarten.

“If we have to be out on Monday there are a large number of kids that are going to be screwed. While politicians argue, the children will suffer.”

Reader Comments

  1. Tragically, the poor – especially children – have been soundly scapegoated by today’s Americans, and this will have an impact on our overall economy/ability to compete in the modern world market for many years to come. We all know that Head Start works. We all know that it would be in the nation’s best interests to open up higher education to every citizen who can do the work — regardless of economic status.

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