Americans who suffered through sequester-related flight delays last month are hardly the true victims of Washington’s budget gridlock. It’s more than likely that the 70,000 children who are being kicked out of Head Start have it much worse.
The program, which helps preschoolers from low-income families to start school, is facing a $406 million cut after the sequester—a package of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts—was enacted earlier this year when Congress was unable to reach a compromise to reduce the country’s deficit.
“We’ve snatched the rug out from under 70,000 of the most vulnerable families and children in America,” Ron Herndon, chairman of the board of the National Head Start Association, told Hardball on Monday evening.
Herndon added that not only will 70,000 children be barred from participating, but there’s also a spillover effect in that the program has been credited for lowering childhood mortality rate by providing healthy meals and healthcare.
The sequester means “Hundreds of thousands of nutritious meals that won’t be served, hundreds of thousands of dental followups won’t be made, hundreds of thousands of medical followups won’t be made, literally hundreds of thousands of home visits to parents to help them prepare their children to do well in school that won’t be made.”
Head Start was created in 1965 as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. It’s losing about 5% of its federal funding for the current fiscal year.
The devastating cuts come as lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month agreed to forgo furloughs for air traffic controllers after thousands of flights were delayed due to budget cuts following the sequester. The air travel bill, which moved quickly up the chain of command in a Congress known for its gridlock, is coming under scrutiny for leaving less visible, poorer constituents and organizations that represent them behind. That includes Meals on Wheels, public housing assistance program, special education, cancer programs and more.
Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Florida told Hardball’s Chris Matthews that she wants children to get the same attention air travel delays have gotten. “Republicans refuse to replace the sequester or sit down with us to negotiate a balanced plan.”
Castor added, the GOP is “not interested in real debt reduction. They just want these cuts. They want the sequester, but they are going to have to live with the fact that they are complicit in the dumbing down of America.”
The idea behind the sequester was to put pressure on both sides to hammer out a deficit reduction deal, with Republicans taking a hit on defense cuts and Democrats agreeing to cut safety net programs they have long touted. That didn’t happen.
The Obama administration has called the airline bill a “temporary Band-Aid” for the sequester, pointing to the plight of other programs.
“We hope Congress will find the same sense of urgency and bipartisan cooperation to help the families who have had children kicked out of Head Start, the seniors who have lost access to Meals on Wheels, the hard-working employees who have been laid off due [to the] defense cuts, and the 750,000 Americans who have lost a job or won’t find one because of the sequester by acting on a balanced deficit reduction plan like the one the president has proposed,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said after the Reducing Flight Delays Act was approved.
Meanwhile, Congress continues to struggle to pass a 2014 budget. Obama, earlier this month unveiled a $3.8 trillion spending plan, which would raise taxes on the wealthy in exchange for cutting back on benefit programs like Social Security. Both parties have their complaints: Republicans are upset by higher taxes and Democrats are angry about cuts to Social Security.
Herndon said if the sequester continues, Head Start may have to close one or two weeks earlier or start one or two weeks later.
He urged Congress to get its act together. “Most Head Start parents are not flying on airplanes, but we do certainly think their children should be given just as much consideration.,” said Herndon.
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