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For the last several months, even as the world seemed to slow down and so many businesses closed their doors, Head Start programs in Maine have continued their work to meet the needs of Head Start children, families and staff.
Presently, and with great thanks for the CARES Act funding, Head Start programs are racing to run summer supplemental programs, acquire much-needed personal protective equipment, add shielding and barriers to meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and revise classes to accommodate local and state guidelines around distancing and group sizes — all critically important to reopening and providing care for young children, especially as parents look to return to work.
However, this investment will by no means cover the debilitating projected funding shortfalls of local Head Start programs.
The Maine Head Start Directors Association is estimating that for each of our programs our emergency costs for sanitation, PPE, staffing, technology and facilities adjustments will cost upwards of $120,000 annually. Head Start programs across our state are seeing cost increases of 15 percent to 25 percent directly attributable to COVID-19. This is unsustainable with our current funding, and our families — particularly our working families — are counting on our programs to still be there for them through this latest crisis.
On behalf of the more than 3,000 Head Start and Early Head Start families in Maine, I am calling on our senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, to take a stand in Congress and champion the $1.7 billion in emergency funding identified by Head Start leaders nationwide.
Right now, Head Start programs across the country need to continue safely serving their nearly 1 million enrolled children and families in the COVID-19 era. Reopening all childcare and early learning centers across the state is our primary objective for the fall — not only to provide children a safe haven and continue critical early learning, but also to enable their parents to go back to work. Without emergency funding specifically for the Head Start program, we will not be able to get children safely back in our classrooms.
We’re asking Collins and King to please fight for emergency funding of $1.7 billion that is critical for Head Start programs to help keep our most at-risk children safe through COVID-19.
Dianne L. Nelder is the chair of the Maine Head Start Directors Association and the director of children’s services at Community Concepts.