We are grateful to Congressman Jared Huffman for visiting Community Action Marin recently and meeting with children and teachers at one of our agency’s high-quality early childhood education centers. The team got to share our agency’s commitment to a Whole Family Approach for individual, family, and community well-being. The Congressman appreciated the agencies’ important work to advance justice in Marin County, from policy and program to practice every day.
The visit took place at our Old Gallinas Children’s Center in San Rafael, where Community Action Marin leverages federal Head Start funding and California child care contracts to provide free and affordable early education to families of low and extremely low incomes. Our teachers and children introduced themselves and shared how much they loved the pozole from our Central Kitchen at lunchtime. We talked about the recycling curriculum and how parents have noted their children making good choices about the food cycle at home based on what they were learning.
We’re so proud of the entire team’s dedication to children and families and the teachers and family advocates who spoke to the Congressman of their love for the work they do each day. Children were engaged, sharing their feelings, and the visit highlighted how staff help children explore their abilities in a supportive environment and develop their full potential.
Importantly, the visit included discussion of how the early childhood teacher shortage is a major problem for Community Action Agencies and other child care providers nationwide. Community Action Marin was featured in a KQED article on this topic just last fall. Child care and early education is an essential service in all communities. The field is facing significant challenges, however, that hamper our ability to serve eligible children and families. The issues are systemic, with a staffing shortage driven by historically low wages for early childhood professionals. Community Action Marin is advocating at the state level for changes to the subsidized child care program and also at the federal level for increased funding for Head Start.
Gina Guillemette, the agency’s Chief Strategy Officer, shared: “In Marin County we have a tremendous need for child care and yet providers who serve those with lowest incomes are unable to open classrooms due to the staffing crisis. There are currently over 50 open teaching positions in Marin and we know that historically low wages in the field is a key issue. Without teachers, classrooms remain closed, over 400 children and their families in Marin are denied access to care, and Marin loses access to millions of dollars that have already been funded and designated locally.”
Community Action Marin followed up with the Congressman to urge action for early education on two items:
1. Support the President’s proposed FY24 budget for Head Start and push for an increase that is adequate to address the current challenges facing the field, including teacher wages and the epidemic of childhood trauma.
2. Sign on to the Child Care for Working Families Act of 2023 to expand affordable access to child care and increase wages for teachers.
Additionally, Community Action Marin spoke to our participation in the network of Community Action agencies across the state and country who are on the front lines addressing the causes and consequences of poverty. Our work is supported in part by the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), a federal funding stream which supports Community Action agencies in meeting local anti-poverty needs.
With Marin’s high cost of living, people experiencing poverty face extreme hardships. There was a time-limited expansion of CSBG eligibility during the pandemic, from 125% of the federal poverty level to 200%, meaning that Community Action Agencies can serve people with modestly higher incomes up to $55,500 for a family of 4. This expansion will sunset on September 30, 2023 without additional Congressional action.
We know that a lower poverty threshold is wholly inadequate, particularly in California and Marin County, and are seeking a permanent eligibility threshold of 200% FPL so our work can span the continuum, providing support to community members from crisis to thriving. Community Action Marin encouraged the Congressman to support the 200% eligibility provision as a key component of CSBG reauthorization and to speak out with his colleagues and leaders to encourage broad support for this provision. It was a fitting way to celebrate Community Action Month which takes place in May of each year.
Finally, Community Action Marin’s leadership and CEO, Chandra Alexandre, thanked the Congressman for coming and for his past support of Head Start and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). Both are essential to the agency’s work of providing community-responsive services to the residents of Marin County and to leading a local anti-poverty movement.