Head Start Advocacy Update: Looking Back & Charging Forward

So much has happened in Congress in the first eight months of 2022 that directly influenced Head Start. Let’s take a few moments to look back at our wins this year.

Before we jump into 2022, let’s take a minute to remind ourselves about the end of 2021. Last December, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an Interim Final Rule with Comments (IFC) on masking and vaccine requirements for Head Start staff. As part of our mission to ensure children do not lose access to critical Head Start services due to the IFC, NHSA filed comments with the Federal Register. The National Indian Head Start Directors Association, ten regional associations, and 48 state associations joined as co-signers.

January: Advocacy and Celebrating Champions

The first major event of the year was NHSA’s Winter Leadership Institute. We were pleased to recognize nine members of Congress for their championship of Head Start.

  • Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) received one of NHSA’s highest accolades. The award celebrated his career-long dedication to supporting America’s most vulnerable children and families.
  • Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), Joe Morelle (D-NY-25), and Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) received the Head Start Pledge Award.
  • Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-3), Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23), Mondaire Jones (R-NY-17), Fred Keller (R-PA-12), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) received the PROMISE Award.

February: IFC

NHSA continued to push the Biden Administration for additional guidance and clarity on the IFC. We joined AASA, the School Superintendents Association, in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra expressing the urgent need for clear guidance on vaccines and masking requirements.

March: FY22, the Pre-K Caucus, and CCDBG

Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Omnibus Appropriations Bill. It set the Head Start budget for the fiscal year, which ends this September. The budget included a modest increase of $286 million over FY21. NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci said it best: “There is some cause for celebration—this level of Head Start funding is a historic high—and there is also reason for despair.”

Another critical piece of legislation was introduced in March: the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and other Senate Republicans introduced the Act to reauthorize the existing CCDBG Act. They also aimed to retain a block grant structure and state-led policy decisions. It also incorporates language from Build Back Better. The legislation includes Head Start as an eligible mixed-delivery partner. It but does not create federal quality standards based on Head Start. Read NHSA’s CCDBG bill summary.

The Congressional Pre-K and Child Care Caucus was reactivated on Capitol Hill, co-chaired by Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), Tom Cole (R-OK-4), and Rodney Davis (R-IL-13). NHSA works closely with the Caucus, including recently cosponsoring two Congressional staff briefings related to the FY23 appropriations process.

April: FY23 Appropriations and SNAP

NHSA developed letters to Appropriations Committee leadership outlining our funding recommendations for FY23. In the House, Rep. Katherine Clark led a letter among her Democratic peers and Rep. Fred Keller led a letter on the Republican side. Rep. Clark’s letter, which generated a record number of signatures, outlined the specific funding items recommended by NHSA: a realistic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), improved workforce compensation, additional quality improvement funds (QIF), and expansion of the Tribal Colleges and Universities-Head Start Partnership Program. Keller’s letter called for robust Head Start funding.

NHSA also signed on to a letter led by the Child Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Policy Working Group which outlined the FY23 funding priorities to prevent and address childhood trauma. This request drew specific attention to Head Start and Early Head Start as a critical funding stream to address ACE and childhood trauma.

After a decade of advocacy from NHSA and the Head Start community, we secured a major victory! HHS ruled that children who qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are now considered categorically eligible for Head Start. This administrative flexibility supercharges Head Start’s work in local communities to prioritize service to families and children who most need it.

Yasmina said it well: “While this change to the paperwork process may appear small, it will relieve a significant administrative burden that keeps children and families from enrolling. Anything we can do in these times to ease a burden on families recovering from this pandemic is good policy.”

The announcement followed closely on the heels of a letter to HHS led by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) urging the Secretary to expand Head Start’s public assistance eligibility definition to include SNAP and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

May: Witness Testimony, 57th Birthday, and Workforce Data

The fight for FY23 funding moved to the Senate in May. NHSA worked closely with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) to lead a sign-on letter urging the Appropriations Subcommittee. Forty-two Democrat colleagues joined the letter. In addition, NHSA worked with Head Start alumni Senators Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA) on another letter, which was ultimately signed by 18 of their Democrat colleagues.

NHSA also submitted public witness testimony to both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees from Sharon Scott-Chandler and Lori Milam respectively. Both provided key insights on the importance of FY23 funding, especially as it relates to the workforce.

Nearly 100 Senate and House offices took to social media during the month to wish Head Start a happy 57th birthday. We were especially pleased to have arranged for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD-05) and Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA-09) to enter comments into the Congressional Record.

Workforce data illustrated how the Head Start and Early Head Start workforce has been pushed to a breaking point. NHSA sent a letter signed by all state, regional, and national Head Start associations to Congressional leadership urging them to provide immediate workforce funding to Head Start and Early Head Start. NHSA’s workforce report generated some buzz in the media. Find coverage in EdSurge, Politico, The 74, New America, K-12 Dive, Times-Union, and the Star-Telegram.

June: House Appropriations and Reconciliation

Following numerous calls and meetings, including with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03), NHSA applauded the work of the Committee for including record funding for Head Start in the FY23 appropriations bill, which the Committee adopted on June 30. The bill includes NHSA’s full COLA and QIF requests and provides an increase of $1.4 billion over last year.

Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) put forward a scaled-down reconciliation proposal. It included significant funding for child care as well as $2 billion annually in Head Start workforce compensation funding. Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-CA-53) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01) led a letter signed by 127 of their colleagues, supporting the Murray-Kaine proposal in any future package.

July: Senate Appropriations, Reconciliation, IFC, and Home Visiting

In July, the Senate put forward its initial draft of the appropriations bill. The draft released by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) matched the key funding levels agreed to in the House. This action moved the process closer to negotiations with the House. NHSA is hopeful that FY23 funding legislation will be complete before the budget year begins on October 1.

As Congress debated a reconciliation package without funding for the Head Start workforce, NHSA joined 85 national organizations in a letter to Congress highlighting the urgent need to ensure that any reconciliation package includes these critical investments.

We continued to push HHS to issue a final rule on COVID-19 vaccines and masking. NHSA, along with six regional associations and 40 state associations, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, stating in no uncertain terms that Head Start needs clarity and requested a final rule be issued by no later than August 15.

In addition, NHSA released a new brief on Early Head Start home visiting and the recommended reauthorization of the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. Early Head Start is proud to be one of MIECHV’s approved evidence-based models.

August: Reconciliation and IFC

President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (the reconciliation package). Although an amendment for significant workforce funding was introduced, it did not receive a vote and the package was adopted with no Head Start workforce funding. Here’s what NHSA had to say about the critical funding missing from the package.

Hearing crickets from HHS in response to our July letter, NHSA penned another. The letter, which was also sent to The White House as well as leadership in the House and Senate, keeps the pressure on the Biden Administration to restore the traditional role of local program autonomy for Head Start.

On the horizon…

NHSA will continue to engage in the budget process. We want a quick resolution to any differences between the House and Senate as soon as possible. Likewise, we are keeping our eyes trained on the IFC and any opportunities to ensure higher levels of workforce compensation.

As summer winds down, we are looking forward to our Fall Leadership Institute in September. This four-day advocacy training in Washington, D.C., is a great opportunity for Head Start advocates. We hope you will join us and meet with your elected leaders and staff on Capitol Hill.

NHSA’s advocacy is funded through Dollar per Child, our annual fundraising campaign.


The National Head Start Association is a not-for-profit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in school and in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for nearly 1 million children, 270,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start and Early Head Start grantees in the United States. ••• Media Contact: media@nhsa.org

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