The 2022 National Head Start Association (NHSA) Winter Leadership Institute took place virtually, January 24-27, 2022. As customary for NHSA conferences, representatives from the Office of Head Start (OHS) held a session to share updates from the administration and OHS. Here, we provide some of the important federal funding and policy updates that were shared by OHS leaders.

Federal budget: The FY2021 budget is $10.7 million. The FY2022 budget includes proposed increases: $234 million for COLA, $500 million for Head Start and Early Head Start expansion, $250 for quality improvement, and $200 million for duration. OHS leaders reminded participants that this is the proposed budget and could change. Attendees were also reminded that signing up for grant forecasts on grants.gov is one way to ensure you’re made aware when new funding opportunities arise.

Status of Building Back Better and potential for new funding: At the NHSA Fall Leadership Institute, there was much excitement over President Biden’s proposed Building Back Better (BBB) Act, which includes Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) and child care expansion, with Head Start as a central component. OHS leaders stated there was hope that BBB would have passed at the end of last year, though it is taking longer than expected. They stressed that the administration remains committed to early childhood investments and is aware of the workforce shortage that so many programs face. The passing of BBB is critical to the release of new funding for the Head Start and child care community, though there is not a specific timeline.

COVID relief funding: COVID relief funding for Head Start/Early Head Start programs was released through three initiatives: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 2020 (CARES), Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and American Rescue Plan Act, 2021 (ARP). A CARES spending report was required by all recipients of this funding, and OHS will be requesting the same type of report related to CRRSA and ARP funding. The report template will be sent to programs soon and will likely have a 30-day turnaround.

Further, OHS staff highlighted ways that programs can continue to spend COVID funds. One example that was provided is incentives to staff (e.g., retention bonuses), with the caveat that these are one-time funds and should be communicated to staff as such. Other suggestions included staff wellness and mental health supports, classroom and outdoor space, HVAC and ventilation, transportation and supplies. There was even a suggestion to purchase additional toys that can be used in a rotation while other materials are being sanitized. OHS encouraged programs to continue to draw down their funding, as needed for their program.

Designation Renewal System (DRS): Grant competitions in DRS Round 10 are closing next week. OHS leaders noted that this is the second year that grant competitions are posted by state, with specific service areas embedded within. There are 12 states with open competitions, representing 15 service areas. Competitions are a mix of traditional DRS grants as well as a few grants that opened due to relinquishment. (A timeline for the next round of DRS was not provided. Please check out our DRS Updates blog for up-to-date information).

Increase in federal poverty guidelines: Updated federal poverty guidelines went into effect on January 12, 2022. OHS staff encouraged programs to update their policies to reflect this change and ensure they are enrolling income-eligible families within the new guidelines. There was a bigger increase in thresholds than the past, 4-5% rather than a typical 1-2% increase.

COVID vaccine and masking requirements: OHS leaders acknowledged that, due to ongoing litigation, there was little that could be shared about vaccine and masking requirements. They did, however, note they are acutely aware of the concerns that programs have related to vaccine and masking requirements, in addition to concerns about testing and access to tests, guidance related to quarantine, and continuing to provide services to young children during the pandemic. OHS received 2,700 comments on the Interim Final Rule on the subject. OHS staff also pointed attendees to CDC guidance on masks, quarantine and isolation, and testing.

Also related to COVID, OHS leaders highlighted Operation Expanded Testing (OpET). Through OpET, free testing is available to child care centers in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Free testing is available through July 2022 and you can sign up with your regional coordination hub by visiting the CDC website.

OHS updates also included reminders and reflections about FY2022 monitoring and highlights of the Head Start Forward Campaign. Many upcoming webinars were noted – from COVID-focused, to enrollment, and more, and attendees were encouraged to join these events for the most up-to-date information and guidance. For more information about upcoming NHSA conferences, check out the organizations 2022 Conferences schedule.

Thank you.

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