A billionaire couple from Houston donated $10 million to keep the federal Head Start programs running through October during the government shutdown.
John and Laura Arnold's Oct. 7 donation will go directly to programs in six states (Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi) that provide preschool services to low-income children and were forced to close during the first week of the shutdown, leaving nearly 7,200 at-risk children unable to return to their classrooms.
Head Start is a federal program that was created in 1965 to promote school readiness for children under 5 years of age who come from low-income families.
Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, said in a statement that the Arnolds were "angel investors," but that the donation is not a sustainable way to fund a national program.
"Our elected officials simply must find a fiscal solution that protects, preserves and promotes the promise that quality early learning opportunities like Head Start offer to nearly one million at-risk children each year," Vinci said in the statement.
Several programs were forced to close after the first week of the shutdown because funding for the fiscal year 2014 had not yet been appropriated.
Vinci called the legislators' stalemate "an absurd and childish stand-off" that initially left 23 Head Start programs in 11 states without federal funding on Oct. 1, when the shutdown began.
The situation could get worse if the shutdown continues. If the government does not reopen by Nov. 1, programs in 41 states and one U.S. territory that serve more than 86,000 children could lose funding, the National Head Start Association said.
Many programs were already feeling a financial pinch due to the impacts of sequestration, across-the-board funding reductions that cut $427 million from Head Start and resulted in more than 57,000 children losing their slots in the program.
"On the heels of devastating sequester cuts ... Washington's budget battles have harmed even more of America's most vulnerable families," Vinci said in an Oct. 1 statement at the start of the government shutdown.
"This abdication of responsibility by Congress and leaders in Washington has further displaced the at-risk children already reeling from sequester. Government shutdown is one cut atop an already deep wound."
The House on Tuesday passed its 10th short-term funding bill – one that would fund Head Start programs at sequester levels. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said funding from the bill would last until Dec. 15, or until Congress passes a full-year budget.
"As we work our way out of this government shutdown mess, we shouldn't let some of our most vulnerable citizens – low-income children with no recourse – suffer," said Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. "This method of funding the government is not my preferred way forward – nor is it the standard. But while we work to find an end to this shutdown, we should fund those programs we can, as soon as we can."