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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Government shutdown could impact local Head Start program

Some state-run programs have yet to feel the pinch of the shutdown.

The federal government’s plunge into partial shutdown last week affected both agencies and employees alike, with 800,000 of more than 2 million federal workers deemed “non-essential” and sent home.

But for some programs, like Head Start, the pre-kindergarten program for low-income families, the real challenges could come weeks down the road.

Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, Head Start’s administrative body in eight mid-Missouri counties, including Boone, said the shutdown will not affect his organization’s access to funding in the short term, as his organization’s federal grants were approved last year.

For some members of Head Start, a program launched in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society proposal, the fiscal year runs from May to April, steeling them against the shutdown itself, which was brought on by a funding gap in programs that ran from October to September.

Preis, however, did say the organization is already using reserve funds and donations to handle a burdensome budget, more than $2,500 of which goes toward food for preschool students daily. With mass furloughs of federal employees, Preis said, a glitch in the federally operated electronic payment system could go unfixed for weeks, leaving organizations without any funding at all.

“We don’t need anybody on the federal side to press a button,” Preis said. “And thank goodness because there is nobody on the federal side to press that button.”

CMCA remains in the minority of Missouri’s other Head Start programs. Nineteen might be forced to shut down and, until then, must rely on national reserves and charity, Preis said.

“There’s a philanthropist in Texas that made a large donation to the national Head Start association,” Preis said.

That donation was $10 million and will be used to help keep those 19 branches afloat.

But Preis said CMCA and its sister organizations do not have nearly enough funding from third parties to keep operations open and need the government shutdown to end in order to continue to serve the community.

That end is still uncertain as gridlock in Washington, D.C.

The republican-controlled House in September passed legislation that would have eliminated funding for the Affordable Care Act, and refused early on to pass a continuing resolution, which would have appropriated Treasury funds to all federal agencies and programs, including Obamacare.

Some House republicans went on to criticize leading Democrats for failing to negotiate.

“…You can’t negotiate with yourself,” said Steve Walsh, spokesman for Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo. “So it’s very important that the two sides in any discussion, in any negotiation, in any difference of opinion...two sides have to get together and discuss and negotiate.”

Yet to some Democrats, those failing to negotiate are republicans, who they say welcomed the shutdown in a last-ditch effort to defund the ACC.

“House Republicans proved that they hate the president more than they love their country,” Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said in a news release last week. “House Republicans allowed their Tea Party tantrum to shut down the federal government and bring the United States closer to defaulting on our debt.”

The government has experienced a shutdown before. In 1995, President Bill Clinton butt heads with House republicans over his proposed budget. When vetoed their spending bill, which left out key components of his health care reforms, the government was forced to suspend operations for 26 days until a new bill could be drafted.

To political science professor Marvin Overby, neither should come as a surprise.

“To a certain extent, what we’re seeing here is the natural result of the American constitutional system,” Overby said. “We have an 18th-century constitutional order that was designed to make government agreement difficult — to limit what government could do by giving powers that had to be shared by these various institutions.”

The way American government is supposed to work, with three independent institutions controlled by two parties, is conducive to crisis when faced with present spending issues, Overby said.

“This is what you essentially get when you have 18th century institutions, designed to limit what government can do, trying to grapple with 21st century problems,” Overby said, “that are oftentimes going to require more vigorous government action.”

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