National Head Start Association’s Winter Leadership Meeting

National Head Start Association’s Winter Leadership Meeting
January 27, 2014
Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg

Thanks, Yasmina, for your kind introduction, and for your career of work on behalf of needy children and families. And, thanks to all of you for the invaluable work you do every day, and for having this session to explore the linkages between the role of Head Start and the challenge of addressing poverty in America.
This is a particularly appropriate time to have this conversation, for a couple of reasons. First, as you know, this month has involved multiple discussions, conferences, and other exchanges about the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty --- what was it, what did and didn’t it accomplish, what can we learn from its experience to inform our current and future efforts. And, of course, this will closely connect with next year’s 50th anniversary of the establishment of Head Start. Second, last month, the President gave an important speech on inequality and economic mobility, characterizing the effort to address inequality and mobility as the defining challenge of our time. While we don’t know what the President will say in the State of the Union tomorrow night, there is much reason to believe that he will continue that discussion, and challenge us as a nation to expand ladders of opportunity and strengthen economic mobility.

Addressing mobility and addressing poverty aren’t identical, but they’re closely related. Research tells us that for children growing up in the bottom quintile, over forty percent will remain there as adults. On the one hand, that tells us that birth isn’t destiny, that most children growing up in poverty don’t remain there as adults, and that most poor adults didn’t grow up in poverty. But, at the same time, it also tells us that children growing up in poverty are more likely to be poor adults than any other group, and most children growing up poor remain in the bottom half. Moreover, research also tells us that one reason why mobility in the United States is worse than for a number of other developed nations is that in the United States, the bottom quintile is less likely to move up. All this points to the premise that any strategy for addressing and improving mobility in the United States has to include a focus on addressing sustained and persistent poverty and its impacts on children.

As you know, we live at a time in which one in five children is poor, and child poverty remains near its highest rate in twenty years. Recognizing this, it’s only limited consolation, but nevertheless important to recognize, that without government assistance, and without the initiatives of this Administration, the rates would be higher. In particular, poverty would have increased far more during the recession and downturn but for the Recovery Act, and over time, the Affordable Care Act will have a profound effect on both promoting health and reducing the risk of catastrophic financial burdens for all Americans. Moreover, our understanding of poverty rates and poverty trends is sometimes impaired by the fact that the official measure of poverty doesn’t reflect the effects of tax credits and liabilities or the effects of non-cash government benefits. Research using the Supplemental Measure, a more comprehensive measure of poverty finds that while the official poverty rate shows little change in the poverty rate between 1967 and now, using the Supplemental Measure indicates that poverty fell by 40 percent over this period, largely due to government assistance.

Still, by any measure, poverty, and child poverty, is far above where we would want it to be. This Administration is guided by the President’s goal that a little girl or boy born into the bleakest poverty should know that they have the same chance to succeed as anybody else. In order to create ladders of opportunity to help all children succeed and all Americans reach the middle class. Our strategies must help all children get a great start in life, create pathways to family-supporting jobs, and strengthen the communities in which children grow up.

As you all know, the opportunity gap that limits the life chances of low income children begins in the earliest years. We are very aware of the research indicating that as early as nine months of age; low-income children are more likely to demonstrate delays in their cognitive, language and social-emotional development compared to their higher-income peers. We know that by the start of school, low-income children are even further behind their peers in cognitive and language skills. And, we know that over the first four years of life, it is estimated that a child from a low-income family will have exposure to about 13 million words, compared to 45 million words for a child in a higher-income household – a difference of more than 30 million words. So, a continuum of early childhood programs and services in fundamental to addressing the opportunity gap and improving the prospects of low income children.

That’s why the Administration has spurred the expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs, worked to improve the quality of child care and address child well-being in the child welfare system, increased participation in Early Head Start, and worked to strengthen the effectiveness of Head Start through research, technical assistance, stronger coordination with other early childhood programs, and requiring competition for the first time in the history of the program. And, that’s why HHS and the Department of Education have worked together on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge to raise the quality of early childhood education programs, establishing higher standards across programs and providing critical links with health, nutrition, mental health, and family supports.

As you also know, the Administration wants to do more. The Affordable Care Act provided $1.5 billion over five years for evidence-based home visiting programs. The Administration has urged Congress to extend and expand evidence-based the program. We need Congress to act on that extension. The President’s budget also sought $75 billion over 10 years to expand high-quality preschool programs to all 4-year-olds in families with incomes below 200 percent of poverty. Congress took a limited but important step forward in providing continued funding for Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants. But, of course, the largest new early childhood investment in the 2014 budget was for Head Start--- $1 billion, both to reverse the impacts of sequestration and to provide $500 million to establish the Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships. Through these partnerships, more children will be served in high quality settings, and child care centers will be provided with support needed to meet Early Head Start Performance Standards and to increase providers’ training, education and pay. In addition, the Partnerships will provide comprehensive services to benefit children by enhancing learning, health, and development, including multiple screenings; higher health, safety, and nutrition standards; increased professional development opportunities for teachers; and increased parent engagement opportunities. We are very mindful that Head Start is one part of the array of experiences, systems, and network of relationships that shape the lives of children and their families. We understand that the impacts of even the most effective programs are affected when young children grow up in conditions of parental unemployment or deep poverty; when conditions in the home are chaotic or dysfunctional; when schools are ineffective or worse; when neighborhoods and communities are lacking in jobs and opportunities, or plagued by violence. Accordingly, any strategy to improve outcomes for children has to focus on the capacities of parents and the conditions of communities.

In our research agenda, we’re seeking to better understand the strategies for helping parents cope with stress, trauma, depression, and seeking to better understand how programs can better implement two-generational strategies that strengthen parental capacities as well as serve children. And, we recognize that a central part of promoting ladders of opportunity must be helping parents enter employment and connect with work that pays enough to support a family, and help workers prepare for 21st century family supporting jobs. The President continues to urge Congress to raise the minimum wage; raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would benefit 18 million workers. The Administration’s proposed Pathways Back to Work Fund would help support job and work work-based training opportunities for long term unemployed and low income adults, and support summer and year-round jobs for low-income youth. At ACF, through the TANF program, we seek to encourage states to help low income families meet basic needs and succeed in the workforce, and we continue to emphasize the potential for creating new job opportunities through subsidized employment initiatives. Our research agenda is focusing on promising models for career pathways programs, sectoral strategies, especially in health care; subsidized employment, and more effective ways of helping people find jobs.

We also recognize that a key part of helping children succeed is ensuring that children benefit from the financial and emotional support of both of their parents. The President has placed a major emphasis on the importance of fatherhood. As part of that effort, ACF funds a set of initiatives across the country that seek to encourage healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood. Congressional funding for these efforts began ten years ago, and early evaluations suggested that just focusing on relationship skills alone was not enough to generate positive impacts, accordingly, we’ve encouraged a more comprehensive approach with greater attention to economic stability. And, we’ve worked to reorient the child support program to a program that seeks to serve both parents and is grounded in the recognition that not all fathers have the means to make significant child support payments. Across the country, local child support offices are now partnering with fatherhood programs, workforce programs and community colleges, going into prisons to reduce orders, and working with returning veterans.

Along with addressing the needs of families, the Administration is committed to strengthening the communities in which children grow up. The President has said that a child’s zip code should never determine her destiny; but we know that today, the neighborhood in which a child grows up affects the odds of graduating high school, health outcomes, and lifetime economic opportunities. In the first term, the Administration launched the Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhood efforts. Earlier this month, the Administration announced the first five Promise Zone communities. The Promise Zones Initiative is intended to align existing federal place-based initiatives and revitalize high-poverty communities across the country by incentivizing private investment, improving affordable housing, expanding educational opportunities, reducing violence, assisting local leaders in navigating federal programs, and cutting through red tape. Promise Zones do not receive new resources as part of their designation. HHS and other partnering federal agencies have identified programs to provide technical assistance and competitive review points, and directives for program alignment. And, the Administration has urged Congress to enact tax credits to drive economic investment in these high-need communities.

In these remarks, I’ve only touched on a few of our efforts. But, the goals of reducing poverty and promoting opportunity and mobility aren’t about a single program or set of programs; it’s more fundamentally about a coordinated effort across what we do --- early childhood programs and systems, employment, training and workforce efforts; supports for work; asset-building strategies; efforts to improve outcomes for foster care youth, runaway and homeless youth and other disconnected youth; expanded opportunities for refugees and other
immigrants; domestic violence services and supports, and more. The President has talked about the defining challenge of our time, Head Start contributes in a crucial way to addressing it, but there’s more for all of us to do, and we welcome the challenge.

The first 5 Promise Zones (of a total of 20) are areas in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp, KY (rural designee), and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The remaining 15 will likely be designated later this year.

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