Report: The True Cost of Reopening

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption in the lives of Head Start children and families. In response, Head Start programs have not missed a beat as many transitioned to remote services to meet the needs of at-risk children and families in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Program staff have remained employed, working in overdrive to keep contact with families and provide them with support and academic activities for children. Immediate triage efforts for the at-risk population served by Head Start included meal drop-offs, provision of diapers and formula, wellness checks, and connection to telehealth services. Head Start services have been essential throughout the pandemic and continue to be, particularly as parents look to return to work.

Head Start received $750 million from the CARES Act to support the immediate needs of programs, largely covering sanitation costs and providing the means to make up for lost learning time for some children. While this funding has been critical as an immediate support for programs, the needs of Head Start children, families, and staff have continued to evolve as the pandemic’s impact in local communities has taken shape, and needs concerning further funding to reopen safely have arisen as a result. Conservative estimates place the cost of reopening Head Start programs and meeting increased health and safety needs through the calendar year at $1.7 billion above usual operating costs.

NHSA completed a nationwide, comprehensive survey of program needs in order to quantify the costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. When it was asked how programs will or have spent CARES Act funding, a substantial percentage of programs reported covering incurred costs in each of following areas:

  1. personal protective equipment (PPE) (93%);
  2. recurring janitorial services (84%);
  3. staff technology needs (78%); and
  4. mental health needs of children (62%).

More than two-in-five programs were proceeding with using CARES funding to operate a summer session, at the urging of the Office of Head Start, to mitigate learning loss for children headed to kindergarten in the upcoming year.

As local programs approach a new program year and prepare to reopen their doors, the survey uncovered the extent to which programs have been confronted with a barrage of new challenges and costs. These changes—largely in the form of additional staffing, facility and transportation adjustments, and recurring sanitation costs—contribute to reopening costs that far exceed initial triage that was afforded by CARES Act funding. Download the report and read more stories from the frontlines.

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