Iowa’s “Head Start” programs have discovered an unintended consequence of the recently-approved minimum wage hike. A single parent who works 40-hours-a-week at a minimum wage job, and has one child who is enrolled in Head Start, would make too much money to qualify for “Head Start” once the minimum wage goes up to $7.25 an hour.
But Tom Rendon, Iowa’s Head Start coordinator, says if the child’s already enrolled in Head Start this, they may remain in the program ’til kindergarten. “Once you are eligible for Head Start, you stay in Head Start,” Rendon says. “It isn’t like child care assistance where every six months they ask you for your income. You know, if you win the lottery the day after and you become a billionaire, you can still leave your kid in Head Start. Why? Because it’s good for your kid.” According to Rendon, research shows children benefit from predictability and strong relationships, so it would be counter-productive to kick a child out of Head Start just because their parent makes a few more dollars an hour.
Child and family advocates are pressing the federal government to change income eligibility guidelines for Head Start and other social programs as they raise the minimum wage. Iowa Community Action Association executive director Lana Ross says their concerns go beyond Head Start.
“All of the poverty programs need to be reevaluated…to reflect the actions that are being taken at the state and national level,” Ross says. Last week, Governor Culver signed into law a hike in the state’s minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, effective January 1st. Federal policymakers are poised to make the same change, but the bill is still being debated in congress.
Ross, of the Iowa Community Action Association, says despite the glitch the minimum wage increase has caused in Head Start and other poverty programs, her group and others like it still support the minimum wage hike.
“That is the best antipoverty program strategy out there today as it generates more revenue for the household to spend on meeting their basic needs,” Ross says.