WASHINGTON – Following calls from U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced that it is expanding Head Start Program eligibility to help more families in Minnesota and across the country access affordable, high-quality early education services.

“For over half a century, Head Start programs in Minnesota and across the country have provided vital early childhood care and education to children from low-income households,” said Senator Smith. “Complex red-tape and outdated requirements have created unnecessary barriers to access. I’m pleased the Biden administration acted so quickly in response to our request to simplify eligibility for this program. This new, simplified eligibility is a great move that will allow more families to benefit from high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement that they will add SNAP to the categorical eligibility list for Early Head Start and Head Start will allow families much easier access to programs in the state of Minnesota and across the nation,” said Kraig Gratke, Executive Director of the Minnesota Head Start Association. “Programs that we know serve the highest risk population with services that stabilize families and get children ready for school and to be lifelong learners.  When I shared the announcement with programs there was an immediate response of gratitude for those that did the work to make this happen, excitement over streamlining the Head Start enrollment process for families, and one of promise for those families who are now eligible to get into programs. A special thank you to Senator Smith and her team for listening when we shared our thoughts on this and for making it happen.   

“This change reinforces the key position programs play in the lives of children and families and will no doubt go a long way in supporting both the compassionate customer service for which Head Start is so well-known and the Head Start staff responsible for processing applications and prioritizing those with the highest need first,” said Yasmina Vinci, Executive Director of the National Head Start Association. 

Last week, Senator Smith joined a group of her colleagues in calling for this action, which expands eligibility for the program to include families that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Click here to read the letter.

Throughout her time in the Senate, Smith has led efforts to expand access to childcare and early education. Last year, Smith and Sen. Warren led the successful push for $50 billion for childcare in COVID-19 relief, including $40 billion in the American Rescue Plan.  She has also supported a host of bills to expand access to childcare and Head Start including the Child Care Supply Improvement Act, which she authored, that would provide assistance for childcare facilities, support childcare providers in areas related to safety and quality, help providers navigate important health and safety requirements, and support childcare businesses. The bill would also support states and tribes in improving the administration of childcare programs and would help determine how best to use resources in order to support communities in Minnesota and across the country.

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