Head Start Saved For Now; Shutdown Still Brings Uncertainty
ARUN RATH, HOST:
It's not just financial markets getting hit by the government shutdown. At the end of the day, real people are being affected, people like 26-year-old Victoria Thomas, a graduate student in Tallahassee, Florida. Her 4-year-old daughter's Head Start program closed its doors on October 1st after funds ran dry, thanks to the government shutdown. It couldn't have come at a worse time for Thomas. She's been trying to complete her thesis.
VICTORIA THOMAS: So I had to bring her with me to my meetings with my committee members. I had to find child care, had to pay for someone to watch my daughter for a couple of hours on certain days. But she was out of school for a whole week.
RATH: Thomas says her daughter was confused when she broke the news that her school was closed.
THOMAS: We woke up the next day. She said, mom, I'm going to school. I was like, no, you're not going to school. Your school is closed. She didn't really understand, like, my school closed? And, like, she missed her teacher, her friends at school. And she was kind of upset and sad.
RATH: Thomas says it was a long week. The government remains shutdown, but her daughter is now back at Head Start. That's thanks to a $10 million donation from philanthropists John and Laura Arnold.
SALLY AMAN: This has enabled a stop-gap measure and a very generous one to at least keep everyone in the program employed if they work for Head Start, the children in the classes.
RATH: Sally Aman is with the National Head Start Association. She says the Arnold donation isn't a permanent fix. Come November, if Congress still doesn't reach a deal, this will happen all over again.
AMAN: Not only are those potentially 19,000 kids who are affected by the October 1 grant deadline, there's another November 1 deadline looming. And that potentially could affect 86,000 children in addition to the 19,000. So this is really, really a very scary situation for these families and these children who rely on Head Start programs to get them ready and enable families and parents to, as I said, get to work and to school.
RATH: And Sally Aman has a message for lawmakers.
AMAN: We need to come together and figure out what our national commitment is. And it should be to the most vulnerable among us. And there has to be a way for some kind of bipartisan approach that really looks beyond these battles and a little further down the road on what this means to our kids and our families, and find a way to fund programs like Head Start and, in fact, the government. I mean, the government needs to be back up and running so that, you know, it can do the work of the citizenry.