Responding to COVID-19

How Head Start can help support vulnerable children and families

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law, which includes $1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start, among many other key provisions to address the devastating impact of COVID-19. This brings Head Start’s COVID-19 relief funding to a total of $2 billion. As Head Start families and programs continue to stay strong and resilient during the pandemic, the relief package will bring much-needed resources to Head Start centers so they can continue to meet new and evolving needs. NHSA’s government affairs team has successfully pushed for additional resources, flexibility, and guidance to help Head Start programs address the impacts of COVID-19 on our communities, and continues to engage with Congress and the administration. Partnership with local advocates has been instrumental to ensuring Head Start’s needs are recognized.

Through extensive surveying of the Head Start community, including program staff and families, we have uncovered that programs, on average, are experiencing a 20% increase in the cost of operating amid COVID-19. Some of the greatest challenges programs face in serving children and families are: 1) There is a technology shortage among staff operating remotely that, if filled, would yield exponential benefits to the children and families with whom they remain in contact. 2) The stressors experienced by Head Start families, ranging from economic instability to job loss to illness, have compounded the existing needs to address mental health and wellness among Head Start families. Read more here.

Advocating for additional resources

As the effects of COVID-19 on both health and the economy unfold, it is important that the programs that care for and educate Head Start children have the support they need to execute their critical role. NHSA’s government affairs team has been in frequent conversation with congressional leaders and their staff to share Head Start’s evolving needs amidst the COVID-19 public health emergency. We surveyed the Head Start field to understand the most pressing needs and have been conveying this information directly to Capitol Hill.

NHSA also joined a coalition of early childhood organizations in writing to all of Congress with a request for substantial and flexible emergency funding for child care providers and Head Start in response to COVID-19. NHSA followed up with another letter directly to congressional leadership asking them to prioritize Head Start, and then activated the network of state Head Start associations in building support for this emergency funding.

On March 27, NHSA welcomed the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act to help Americans weather the immediate and economic impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The bill includes $750 million for Head Start to meet emergency staffing needs, address added operational costs, and provide summer learning opportunities. The funding is helping to stabilize the networks that are critical to Head Start children and families, including support for child care, nutrition, housing security, and the unemployed. NHSA will continue advocating for the support and flexibility our Head Start programs, families, and communities need to overcome this challenge.

On December 27, after months of negotiations, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 into law, including funding for annual appropriations and COVID-19 relief. The law included $250 million for Head Start programs’ COVID-19 needs, as well as other provisions which may impact Head Start families.

As Congress continues work on the next wave of COVID-19 emergency funding, NHSA is continuing to advocate for the support and flexibility our Head Start programs, families, and communities need to overcome this challenge. We are also working with our early childhood advocacy partners to influence decision-makers, and recently NHSA added our support to a coalition letter urging Congress to support home visiting.


Supporting programs' unique needs

In addition to sharing updates and resources to help Head Start navigate this ever-changing situation, NHSA’s Executive Director Yasmina Vinci is hosting weekly "kitchen table" community conversations for programs to interact and support colleagues across the nation until the threat of COVID-19. This is part of NHSA’s continuous conversation with the Head Start field to assess the developing needs of this unique community.

Supporting state policy needs

NHSA worked with Head Start state leaders to develop state policy recommendations state policy recommendations with a focus on supporting children and families from at-risk backgrounds, delivering resources and flexibility to child care partners, and bolstering recovery once the immediate COVID-19 crisis wanes, so we can build an even more resilient, effective, and connected system of support for young children and their families.

Supporting parents' and families' needs

NHSA has compiled the most relevant policy resources for parents and caregivers to support them in navigating the challenges brought on by COVID-19. These resources support parents in finding access to financial support, answers to health-related questions, and more.

Working with OHS on regulatory flexibility

NHSA has also been communicating closely with the Office of Head Start regarding the regulatory flexibilities programs need in these unprecedented circumstances. In response, OHS has provided guidance and flexibilities regarding wages and other critical program operations:

  • General disaster recovery flexibilities are in effect. OHS has determined that the guidance from General Disaster Recovery Flexibilities can be applied to programs impacted by COVID-19. Given the considerable differences for each state and local community, this guidance empowers grantee leadership to make decisions that best support their Head Start children and families.
  • Supporting the workforce. This policy enabled Head Start programs to continue to pay their staff and provide services to families while their center-based operations were closed due to health and safety concerns. It remains in effect through June 30, 2020, unless further extended by OHS.
  • Continuing nutrition services. Guidance on the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) gave Head Start and Early Head Start programs the flexibility necessary to provide meals and snacks to children during center closures. This action was critical to ensuring that children and families who depend on Head Start programs for meals during the day did not lose that support as the pandemic took hold of communities.
  • Fiscal flexibilities. At the end of March, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) issued guidance providing additional flexibilities for programs whose budgets had been massively disrupted by the needs to respond to COVID-19.
  • Enrollment now and in the future. Head Start programs’ recruitment efforts for the 2020-2021 program year were disrupted amid social distancing and stay-at-home orders, and OHS has continually addressed the implications of this challenge: Enrollment Q&A.

Explore the guidance in detail on  OHS’s COVID-19 webpage.

NHSA will keep advocating for the guidance and flexibility programs need to meet the challenges of adapting services while also protecting the health of Head Start children, families, and staff.


Please complete our brief survey to help us stay up to date with what’s happening in your program so we can continue advocating for the funds and resources that best meet your needs.


See how programs across the country are finding new solutions to better support children and families in their community.

Resources to learn how you can access the aid during this challenging time.

Including Changes from the December 2020 COVID-19 Relief Law


Support Head Start Advocacy

We are profoundly grateful for the many members of our community who have made contributions to Dollar per Child (DpC) in recent days. DpC is the sole funding source for NHSA’s advocacy work. As we all face the economic impacts of COVID-19, your continued generosity will help ensure the vulnerable children and families we serve get the support they need.