Speaking up for kids in the budget fight

We know the sobering headlines on the economy and the implications of the District's local budget shortfall on services for your children and families. The message is clear and profound: Safety nets are being slashed and we will have to do more with less. I hear it from providers, parents and fellow advocates. There is a real risk of federal government shutdown. But the fact is, members of Congress do have a choice - they could either make things much worse, or they could mitigate the harm to our most vulnerable citizens. We need to make sure they make the right choice.  

Yesterday, as expected, the Senate rejected both House bills to fund the federal government for the rest of FY 2011. The House Republicans' proposal, HR1, contained $61 billion in cuts to 2010 funding levels with drastic implications for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. It would have cut funding for Head Start by a whopping $1.1 billion, or 15 percent. This could result in at least 157,000 children across the country losing Head Start. That impact would be on top of the loss of 61,000 expiring Head Start and Early Head Start slots paid for by the Recovery Act. The Democratic alternative from the House contained milder cuts.

What next? On March 18, the continuing resolution (CR) that is currently funding the government expires. Congress must pass another CR immediately or the government will be forced to shut down on March 19.

We need to send a loud and clear message to Congress that we cannot balance the budget against the futures of our most vulnerable children.

Here's what's at stake for the District (under HR 1):

• Total Net Head Start and Early Head Start spaces lost from current levels IF HR 1 passes: 724
• Total Net Head Start and Early Head Start Jobs lost from current levels IF HR 1 passes: 289
• Total Net Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms lost from current enrollment levels if HR 1 passes: 65
• The District will lose up to $24 million dollars in Pell Grants affecting up to 44,000 students
• Approximately 500 youth participants will lose WIA Youth Services 
• The District could lose up to $4,016,845 for selected K-12 programs and an additional $4,587,003 in school improvement funding

In addition, the District would lose funding for the community mental health services block grant, the substance abuse prevention and treatment block grant and the child care development block grant.

As if our job wasn’t hard enough pleading in front of Council members during this oversight and budget season to protect the programs we care so deeply about. The news was much worse than I anticipated.

For me, the most disheartening moment was hearing from a parent whose family has benefited from the Head Start services her three children received from the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center. Head Start provided her family with the necessary support to ensure that her children would enter school prepared to succeed.She has been part of the Head Start community for the past 10 years. Her young daughter is currently in intensive physical and occupational therapy paid for by Head Start. Where will she go without this critical early intervention? What kind of choice does her mother have?

Please lend your voice in support of our children by signing this Voices petition. We may be the District, without a vote, but we cannot afford to remain silent on a bill that would have a profound negative impact on our children and our city.