Head Start programs provide about 10,000 children from low-income families throughout Massachusetts with services from child care to education.
But a government shutdown would mean Community Action Pioneer Valley, one of the state's 28 programs, would not receive its annual federal grant on Oct. 1 — which will impact its locations in Western Massachusetts. Should a shutdown last until November, even more programs will be staring down that problem, according to Michelle Haimowitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Head Start Association.
Leaders at Community Action Pioneer Valley are “working with their state partners and their finance office and their other financial dollars to help do the math of how long that will keep them open,” Haimowitz said. “If we get into November 1 for a shutdown, obviously we have another six programs that will not receive their annual grant awards. And they're also doing the same calculations.”
Amy Kershaw, the state’s early education and care commissioner, told GBH News her department is in close contact with Head Start programs and that the state will provide affected programs with “advanced grant funding” in the case of a shutdown.
Haimowitz says the Head Start programs are a lifeline for low-income and vulnerable families. In addition to education and care, they also provide comprehensive health, mental health and nutrition support.
Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) is the largest Head Start program in New England and serves about 2,000 children each year in Greater Boston, says president and CEO Sharon Scott-Chandler. Since their budget year began in September, rather than October, ABCD does not expect to be impacted financially by a shutdown.
But Scott-Chandler says the parents and family members of the children attending ABCD may experience an increased need because other federal benefits could lapse.
"Even though they may be able to come to our buildings and children are going to receive the early education services, the families could severely be impacted if they're not able to access WIC, if they're not able to access SNAP, if they're not able to access fuel assistance and other programs that will be — or are anticipated to be — impacted."
WIC, the food assistance initiative for women, infants, and children, is funded by the federal government but administered by the commonwealth. State officials say there is money to keep the program going during a short shutdown.
SNAP benefits are expected to be distributed to Massachusetts residents as usual next month, but the program's status beyond October is not yet clear.
Haimowitz says the lapse in benefits compounds on disadvantaged residents across the state, and that residents relying on those services have the most to lose.
"The shutdown's going to be borne on the backs of low-income and vulnerable families," she said.