Government shutdown would close Head Start services

Daytona Howell picks up her son Dayvin from a Columbia Head Start facility. Howell said Head Start provides valuable services for parents like her.

Daytona Howell balances her son, Dayvin, on her lap. It's the end of the day, and she is picking him up from Head Start.

Howell, a college student, said Head Start is extremely helpful for her and her young son.

"Being able to have him here at Head Start, it makes me feel better about him being here, and knowing that he's learning while he's at school," she said.

Parents like Howell may have to start looking for alternatives to Head Start if Congress fails to pass any spending measures by midnight Monday. Under the Department of Health and Human Services' plans for a government shutdown, Head Start funding across the country would be cut off. As of Saturday afternoon, House Republicans had approved a plan that would delay funding for the Affordable Care Act, currently due to go into effect Oct. 1, by a year. Senate Democrats and President Obama have vowed to block any attempt to delay or defund the new healthcare law.

Central Missouri Community Action oversees Head Start programs in mid-Missouri, along with work assistance and winterization programs, Section 8 housing, and related services. The organization's director, Darin Preis, said CMCA has enough money in reserve to keep its programs going for almost two months in the event of a government shutdown, but if a shutdown lasts longer, CMCA would have to start closing down programs. Preis said his organization would not have to stop everything all at once. He said CMCA could put some of its seasonal programs on hold to keep Head Start afloat for a little longer or reduce hours at Head Start facilities. But Preis added funding would eventually run out and CMCA would have to shut down all of its programs.

That would cause problems for parents like Howell and Kim Mize, who was also picking up her son from Head Start.

"Daycares and preschools are really expensive for our family," Mize said. "We would have to find another daycare. I have tried to check those out before, and it would be a tremendous burden on us, financially."

Mize said Head Start takes care of a number of services besides providing preschool education. She said the program's staff make sure children's medical and dental records are up to date.

Howell echoed Mize's sentiments, saying trying to locate a daycare would be the only option for her.

"I don't know what I would do, because I'm a college student and I have a job," she said.

The federal government partially shut down 17 times between 1976 and 1996 due to funding gaps. According to the Congressional Research Service, most of those shutdowns lasted a week or less. The 1996 shutdown was the longest, at 21 days. Preis said CMCA would be able to continue its work uninterrupted in the event of a brief shutdown like these since its employees are contractors who are not directly employed by the government.