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Senator Hassan Leads Colleagues in Calling on Administration to Expand Access to Affordable Child Care

Head Start Provides High-Quality, Affordable Child Care to Lower-Income Granite Staters and Americans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan led her colleagues in calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand eligibility for the Head Start Program to help ensure that more families in New Hampshire and across the country can access affordable, high-quality child care and preschool services. Along with Senator Hassan, the letter was signed by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Ray Lujan (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“We write to ask the Department of Health and Human Services to expand access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education by using your existing authority to ensure that more young children and families are eligible for Head Start programs,” the Senators wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.  

The Senators continued, “For more than 55 years, Head Start programs across the country have provided vital early childhood education to children from low-income households. Additionally, Head Start programs provide wraparound support to parents and entire families, including health, wellness, and nutrition services. However, many families who could benefit from Head Start’s vital services earn slightly above the federal poverty level (FPL) and may be ineligible.”

The Senators are urging Secretary Becerra to expand eligibility for the program to include families that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

“We fully support Senator Hassan’s efforts to expand eligibility for Head Start and encourage HHS to follow through on the Senator’s request,” said Betsey Andrews Parker, CEO of the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County. “We often encounter families struggling to find quality preschool programs and who are turned away due to eligibility. Expanding Head Start eligibility to families that receive SNAP and WIC benefits will only further strengthen our communities by affording more Granite State families access to quality early childhood education in preparation for kindergarten.”   

“It is clear that the eligibility criteria have become increasingly detached from the needs of children and families across the nation. Adding SNAP and WIC to the categorical eligibility list is a simple and swift action we can take to mitigate the increasing barriers that children and families face," said National Head Start Association Executive Director Yasmina Vinci.

Senator Hassan is working to support Head Start programs and ensure that families across the country have access to affordable child care services, which is critical to helping parents, particularly women, re-enter the workforce and strengthen the economy. The American Rescue Plan, which Senator Hassan helped pass into law, included more than $77 million for New Hampshire child care providers. Last November, Senator Hassan joined the rest of the NH congressional delegation in announcing nearly $9 million to strengthen New Hampshire’s early childhood education system, and earlier that year the delegation announced $405,000 through the American Rescue Plan for Head Start programs. Senator Hassan also introduced bipartisan legislation that builds on the American Rescue Plan by permanently increasing the amount of tax-free dollars working parents and their employers can set aside in a dependent care assistance plan to use toward child care expenses.

To read the Senators’ letter to Secretary Becerra, click here or see below:

Dear Secretary Becerra,

We write to ask the Department of Health and Human Services to expand access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education by using your existing authority to ensure that more young children and families are eligible for Head Start programs.

For more than 55 years, Head Start programs across the country have provided vital early childhood education to children from low-income households. Additionally, Head Start programs provide wraparound support to parents and entire families, including health, wellness, and nutrition services. However, many families who could benefit from Head Start’s vital services earn slightly above the federal poverty level (FPL) and may be ineligible.

Currently, families are eligible for Head Start programs when they meet up to 100 percent of the Department FPL, and 35 percent of slots can be designated for children and families earning up to 130 percent of the FPL. The FPL is equivalent to $27,750 for a family of four. Additionally, Section 645 [42 U.S.C. 9840] of the Head Start Act makes children eligible when their families receive certain public assistance, as defined by the Department. Under current Head Start requirements, this so-called “categorical eligibility” applies to families that receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but does not include other public assistance programs used by some of our country’s most high-need families.

We ask the Department to expand Head Start’s public assistance categorical eligibility to include children in families that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs. Adding SNAP and WIC will also underscore the critical links between nutrition support and early childhood education, and help connect pregnant WIC recipients to Early Head Start services at a critical and vulnerable juncture in their lives. 

We hope that the Department will make this change so that more high-need families and their young children can more easily access critical Head Start programs across the country. Thank you for your consideration.

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