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 children, families and staff. There are more than 1,000 Head Start families in Maine who need Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to take a stand in Congress and champion $1.7 billion in emergency funding. Across the country, Head Start programs need to have the ability to continue serving nearly 1 million enrolled children and their families during this COVID-19 epidemic.

Head Start offers early childhood education for young children whose families meet federal poverty guidelines. The Head Start model is a comprehensive preschool program designed to meet the emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs of young children and their families. It helps develop social competencies in children and promotes self-sufficiency through a comprehensive family-focused approach.

Presently, and with great thanks for the CARES Act funding, Head Start programs are running summer supplemental programs, acquiring much-needed personal protective equipment, adding barriers and shielding to meet federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and revising classes to accommodate state guidelines around distancing and group sizes – all critically important to reopening and providing care and education for young children, especially as parents have been returning to work. However, the CARES Act funding will by no means cover the debilitating funding shortfalls projected in our local Head Start programs.

The Maine Head Start Directors Association is estimating that our emergency costs for sanitation, personal protective equipment, staffing, technology and facilities adjustments will cost each program thousands of dollars per month. Head Start programs across our state are seeing cost increases of between 15 percent and 25 percent directly attributable to COVID-19. For example, Southern Kennebec Child Development Corp. incurred over $98,000 in costs related to COVID-19 between March and July. This money was used to pay for personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and services and additional staffing to ensure safe and healthy environments. 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 crisis.

Reopening and sustaining all early care and education programs across the state of Maine 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 work. Without emergency funding for the child care sector, and funding specifically for Head Start, we will not be able to have children safely back in our classrooms and programs.

We ask Sens. Collins and King to please fight for emergency funding for child care, including $1.7 billion that is critical for Head Start programs to help keep our most at-risk children safe through COVID-19.

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