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Vermont Congressman Peter Welch updates Vermont Head Start Association on Build Back Better bill

Congressman Peter Welch (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Congressman Peter Welch (file)

Democratic Congressman Peter Welch recently met with the Vermont Head Start Association to discuss how the Build Back Better bill could help their work.

The Build Back Better bill would provide funding or create programs in a number of areas including education, labor immigration and the environment. It also provide six semesters of free community college; free child care for children under age 6 and universal preschool. President Biden’s domestic agenda remains tied up in Congress, lacking support from moderate Senate Democrats.

During a virtual meeting with the Vermont Head Start Association, Congressman Peter Welch, now running for Senate, called the legislation important to the wellbeing of families across Vermont and the country and long overdue.

“There’s really important legislation in there that finally starts investing in families. Universal pre-K, that early education is so critical for the wellbeing of kids particularly from low income families. The other thing that’s so important is the child care. It’s really quite shocking that our country is the only major industrialized country that doesn’t have a basic uniform system of affordable child care.”

Welch expressed frustration that parents and agencies like Head Start are not receiving the benefits of the bill.

“In build Back Better there’s an acknowledgement that you can’t have a commitment to the kids without having a commitment to the folks who do this very important work. And that means that we’ve got to get the increased wages to a livable wage. And that was a commitment in Build Back Better. And by the way the Build Back Better is paid for. You know this is not put on the deficit. We have revenue measures in there largely from the higher income folks and the very well off corporations that have been doing economically quite well even during COVID.”

Vermont Head Start board member and past director Paul Behrman said in general the organization has higher standards for credentialing and better wages than other private providers, but it still lags behind in resources provided to K through 12 services.

“Head Start is the only fully publically funded birth to five program throughout the United States. And what we’d really like to see is compensation, benefits and credentialing for the Head Start workforce on par with K-through-12. And in fact I think if we were there we would start to solve a lot of the workforce crisis issues at least within Head Start but we would also set a standard and a direction to the rest of the field.”

Behrman also said the bill would help fill a gap in funding for the youngest.

“From birth to 5 this is the most critical age group. For folks who want to see it economically we will be a more globally competitive nation. We will be a more highly educated nation. We will be a less racist nation, a more equable nation. It all begins with this investment in birth to 5. But we have failed to fund the absolutely most critical years of the child’s development.”

Head Start Early Education Services Director Debra Gass would like to be able to provide services to all families, not just those who are currently income eligible.

“There are many families out in our communities now that should be in our program that we’re unable to serve because they’re not income qualified. Our ask here is that we could bump that bar up. Ultimately I’d like to see it removed but that we could begin to raise the bar on the income eligibility requirements.”

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