Why Cherry-Picking Programs to Fund is No Way to Govern

October 09, 2013 | Olivia Golden

By Olivia Golden

Head Start and WIC (formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) are among the most crucial public programs for young children’s wellbeing and long-term success.  Both target vulnerable young children and their parents, with Head Start providing early childhood education along with comprehensive family support and WIC providing nutritious food, counseling on healthy eating, and health care referrals to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under age 5. 

Yet CLASP rejects attempts to provide temporary funding for these programs while continuing to leave most federal government programs and services unfunded and shut down.  Piecemeal solutions to the federal government shutdown just won’t work, because families that use Head Start and WIC also need what all the rest of us need – USDA inspectors on the job to make sure food is safe, CDC public health experts monitoring flu infections, scientists finding the next breakthrough in health, worker safety experts at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration protecting us on-the-job, and all the rest of the work of the federal government. The effort by the leadership in the House to cherry-pick certain programs for funding while neglecting to act on the overall budget is a dangerous precedent and an ineffective way to govern. 

It is particularly important that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is crucial to all families but above all to the vulnerable families using Head Start and WIC, is not bargained away.  The millions of people who will for the first time have health insurance on January 1 under the ACA include parents like the mother I shared a podium with at the National Head Start conference last week, who will at last be able to get medical treatment she needs through the ACA. Having a healthy parent is important to young children’s development just like having an early childhood program and enough to eat.   We should not force families to choose by holding programs hostage and offering to reopen the government piece by piece.  That is why we need an approved budget – and why the piecemeal approach to restoring politically sensitive programs is a nonstarter. 

Piecemeal solutions are not only cynical and unfair; they also have hidden costs and inefficiencies.  When staff are laid off or furloughed, whether at the national level or in states or local programs, they lose momentum and take time to start up again when they come back. Piecemeal, start-and-stop approaches to opening the government undercut morale and commitment even among the most dedicated staff. 

Congress should allow all government programs to resume while it returns to work on a budget for the entirety of FY 2014.  Congress should also raise the debt ceiling immediately, removing the threat of an economic shutdown that the U.S. Treasury finds would cost millions of jobs, disrupt government payments, and raise the cost of borrowing for years to come. And Congress should let the ACA stand as the law of the land, as millions of Americans are in need of health coverage. It’s time to set aside the cherry-picking, the brinksmanship, and the hostage taking, and get to work.






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