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Head Start Down, Home Visiting Up in White House Budget Proposal

Head Start would see an $85 million cut in funding for fiscal year 2018 under a proposed budget released Tuesday from the White House—from $9.253 billion to $9.168 billion.

Meanwhile, a program that builds long-term connections between trained counselors and at-risk families was revived in the proposal, at $400 million. 

With Head Start, a cut appears to be mistakenly promoted as a small increase in funding. The White House budget proposal says that the $9.168 billion represents $17 million more than the program received in fiscal 2017.

But that fiscal 2017 figure is based on old numbers. Back in April, Congress agreed to a budget deal meant to keep the government operating through this September. In that deal, Head Start received $9.253 billion. The proposed funding would put Head Start back at the same amount that it received in fiscal 2016. 

Because Congress ultimately holds the purse strings, proposed budgets from the White House should be seen an opening negotiation point for federal agency funding, not the finish line. But Head Start advocates are laying the ground for more money, saying that the proposal will stress a program that is in the middle of implementing new performance standards meant to cut red tape and improve services to children and families. 

"Going into this fiscal cycle, Head Start already faces tremendous budget pressures in implementing new performance standards, keeping and attracting top-notch staff, and redoubling our commitment to locally designed, data-driven programs," said Yasmina Vinci, the executive director of the National Head Start Association, in a statement. 

Home Visiting Sees Funding in Trump Budget Proposal

The Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which provides training and support to families so that they can raise healthy children, would receive $400 million for fiscal 2018 under the budget proposal. The home-visiting program was originally funded at $1.5 billion for five years through the Affordable Care Act. It was renewed in 2015 for two years and $800 million when it was added to a Medicare doctor-payment bill.

The budget proposal is a welcome acknowledgement of home visiting's importance, said Diedra Henry-Spires, the chief executive officer of the Dalton Daley Group, an advocacy group supporting children and families. But home-visiting supporters are continuing their work to a stable and larger funding stream. They are aiming for five years of funding, starting at $400 million and ending at $800 million. 

It's particularly important for the program to have longterm funding because home visitors—nurses, social workers, early-childhood educators, and others—often commit to supporting individual families for multiple years. For example, the Nurse-Family Partnership, one home-visiting program, works with pregnant women until their children are two years old.

"By expanding the program we can better meet the needs of thousands of children," Henry-Spires said.

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