Methodist-Episcopal Effort to Re-Federalize “Head Start"

( [email protected] ) Aug 05, 2003 01:20 PM EDT

WASHINGTON – In response to the recent House bill concerning the management of the Head Start child tax credit and welfare to work programs, bishops from the Pan-Methodist Cooperative initiative met with the children’s fund officials, United Methodist News Service reported, July 30.

This is “a most dangerous time” for impoverished youth, began Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. "People are not aware of the systematic, across-the-board war against children."

Referring to the Head Start bill passed last week by one vote in the House, representative Shelly Water Boots of the children’s fund said the bill originated from a White House request to wholly fund Head Start by in-state grants, thus taking away all federal standards. The current version, she noted has been scaled down to include no more than eight states as a test; up to half the children involved in Head Start could be affected by the change.

According to Boots, in-state block grants will disrupt the federal to local funding patterns established through decades of experience; all accountability established to this point would be lost. Also, Boots argued that the money would be vulnerable to other needs in hard-pressed state budgets. Other alternatives have been introduced in the senate July 28-29, Boots noted, as senators tried to maintain a bipartisan stance on the issue.

Edelman expressed concern over the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which can potentially drain funds needed for children.

"In America, we don’t have a money problem; we have a values and priorities problem," she declared. The dramatic increase in the federal deficit puts all age groups at risk and is part of an attempt to starve government programs, she said. The Bush administration is trying to take the society not just to pre-Great Society status but to the days before the New Deal, she said.

Edelman also said that failure to include the working poor in the child tax credit program unjustly excludes 12 million children.

"The people who need it the most will be getting nothing," Edelman lamented.

Shannon Brigham-Hill, a Children’s Defense Fund lawyer, told the bishops that her agency also favors reauthorizing the current welfare program, which was extended because lawmakers could not agree on new legislation when it came up last year. Brigham-Hill said that problems in a new bill passed by the House include an increase in the number of work hours required of parents, including those with children under age 6, coupled with insufficient money to fund day care even for those children already enrolled.

Any success of the welfare-to-work bill "has been overtaken by lack of job availability," she said.

"We have seen a rise in extreme poverty," she noted. Extreme poverty means household cash income is less than half the amount of the federal poverty line. For example, that would include a family of three with less than $7,064 income in 2001.

She noted that in 2001, despite the previously booming economy, the number of African-American children in extreme poverty was at its highest level in 23 years – nearly 1 million.

The bishops represented by the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation’s Children in Poverty initiative were from the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist churches. Members of the first two denominations were unable to participate in the delegation.