December 2011 U.S. Poverty Action
Remind Congress of Their Unfinished Business: 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 Services
The media can play a vital role in grassroots advocacy. By getting letters to the editor and op-eds published in your local papers, you publicly can pressure lawmakers into supporting your priorities while also educating the public about their significance. As Congress works to finalize funding levels for Head Start, Early Head Start, and the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), let’s make one final push to ensure that Congress understands the importance of early childhood services by funding them at the highest levels possible. Write a letter to the editor or op-ed to your local paper urging lawmakers to support working families by supporting the highest funding levels for Head Start, Early Head Start, and CCDBG. Note: this action sheet has not been updated to reflect the passage of the final 2012 funding bill — see the the talking points in our online template for current messaging.
- Respond to a piece in your local newspaper about Congress’ work to reduce the federal budget deficit, pass job creation legislation, or other events on Capitol Hill.
- Inform readers that tens of thousands of low-income children and their families still do not know whether they will have to scramble for safe and affordable child care in 2012, because Congress has yet to finalize funding levels for Head Start and child care.
- Remind your audience that parents need access to quality and affordable child care in order to work, and this is critical for creating and sustaining jobs and rebuilding the economy.
- And, explain to readers that investing in quality early learning programs is smart policy. As Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman notes, this is a “cost efficient and effective investment in preventing downstream problems in education, health, social and economic productivity.”
- Urge your senators and representative by name to fund child care, Head Start, Early Head Start at the highest levels possible in the final 2012 budget.
- Close by reminding your community that the holiday season is a time to reflect on all we have to be thankful for, and the importance of taking care of our most vulnerable. Urge policymakers to support policies that break the cycle of poverty in 2012 and beyond.
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, be sure to mention your members of Congress by name, and send your published piece to your member of Congress.
Protect America’s Children by Maintaining Head Start and Child Care Funding
Congress has a great deal of work before adjourning for the year. This includes our top priority for RESULTS’ 2011 U.S. poverty work — protecting funding for Head Start and child care programs. Head Start, Early Head Start, and the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) are funded each year through the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. As expected, the Labor-HHS appropriations bill will be one of the last bills (if not the last) passed. Right now, House and Senate negotiators are working to finalize the various appropriations bill and by all reports, they have a large gap to bridge. Congress passed continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running through December 16. This means that Congress has been essentially operating under the FY 2011 funding levels for the last two months (the new fiscal year began on October 1).
The good news is that both the House and Senate Labor-HHS appropriators have proposed increases to Head Start in FY 2012 ($540 million and $340 million respectively), as well as maintaining 2011 funding for CCDBG. This is a direct result of RESULTS volunteers and our early childhood allies pushing members of Congress repeatedly throughout the year to protect these critical investments in our children. However, because the House and Senate Labor-HHS proposals differ in so many other areas (particularly funding health reform), there is no guarantee these funding levels will make it into the final bill.
As a reminder, 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. Despite its long history of success, Head Start now only serves approximately half of eligible preschoolers. Early Head Start offers similar services to infants and toddlers and their families, often in home-based settings. Early Head Start only reaches five percent of eligible families, despite growing recognition of the importance of brain development in the early years.
Recently, the Obama administration took steps to improve the quality of the Head Start program. Most Head Start programs, including many RESULTS groups visited locally early this year, offer high-quality comprehensive services for low-income children and their entire families. Previous rules, however, means it unusual for the lower- or inconsistent-quality programs to lose their funding. Under the new guidelines, Head Start programs will be measured using an assessment tool called CLASS and the programs that do not score well will have to reapply in order to continue getting funded. The White House estimates that about one-third of programs will be reviewed and ultimately recompete for funding at least every five years.
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. When Congress passed welfare reform fifteen years ago and instituted work requirements for millions of low-income single parents, there was a promise of sufficient child care assistance for those families. Unfortunately, CCDBG only serves one out of every seven eligible children.
Despite the tremendous need, it will be challenging to advocate for Head Start and child care funding in the coming years. Because the bipartisan “Super Committee” did not reach a deficit reduction deal last month (see our blog for our take on why this wasn’t a bad thing), the Budget Control Act passed in August puts into place a series of automatic cuts, called “sequestration”, that will begin in January 2013 assuming Congress doesn’t find the savings on its own. According to the Congressional Budget Office, non-defense could be reduced by 7.8 percent below current levels in 2013. This means a variety of programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and RESULTS’ many foreign aid priorities will face tremendous pressure; the New America Foundation reminds us that a 7.8 percent reduction in Head Start funding would mean a cut of $585 million from current levels.
Half in Ten Releases Report on Cutting Poverty in Half in Ten Years
The Half in Ten campaign released a strategy report on reducing poverty in the U.S. The report “establishes the baseline for Half in Ten’s goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, and starts the clock on meeting the target nationally and in every state across the country. The report also outlines a path for policymakers to reverse these troubling trends and rebuild the middle class.” The report uses a determined set of criteria in measuring how well the U.S. is doing in “creating good jobs, strengthening families, and promoting economic security.”
The report ranks each state under the selected criteria, with emphasis on the areas that need improvement. You can see how your state ranks using Half in Ten’s interactive map. You can also download state-specific fact sheets from their website. You can also watch a video of the report’s release on the Half in Ten website.
These resources are invaluable in helping inform members of Congress not only about how poverty is affecting people they represent, but proven strategies on how to make things better. When contacting and meeting with your representatives and senators, be sure to incorporate the data available from Half in Ten in your message.
Members of Congress will be heading back home the holidays and will not return to Washington until January 17 (House) and January 23 (Senate). Take advantage of this opportunity by requesting a face-to-face meeting with your representatives and senators to talk about our priorities. Use our online e-mail to contact their offices about setting up a meeting. Once you get a meeting scheduled, please contact the RESULTS Domestic staff to help you prepare.
We will have more about the December Action on our monthly national conference call (December 10 at 12:30 pm ET). To participate, call (888) 409-6709 with your group by 12:28 pm ET. You can also send your letter to the editor or e-mail your representatives and senators to urge House and Senate negotiators to fund Head Start and child care at no less than the Senate proposed levels ($340 million increase for Head Start, maintaining CCDBG funding) by using our online e-mail action at: https://results.org/take_action/.