Victims Once More, Head Start Families Struggling Under Shutdown

By:  Jason Cherkis and Sam Stein

WASHINGTON -- As she drove along the outskirts of Tallahassee, Fla., on Thursday, Kim Maxwell, 38, became overwhelmed with emotions. It had been nearly three days into the government shutdown, and the political paralysis brought on by warring lawmakers in Washington, D.C., had begun seeping into her life. The Head Start program that her 3-year-old son Matthew attended had closed, leaving her to balance new parenting responsibilities with critical work hours.

“I was bawling on Interstate 10,” Maxwell said. “It just hit me. I feel so bad for Matthew being stuck in the house and I’m not having the money to put him in another program.”

Three days may not seem like a lot of time. But for Maxwell, it was enough to bring her to tears. Since enrolling in Head Start, Matthew had learned to bottle his energy. One-word utterances had blossomed into whole sentences. While her son was at school, Maxwell had used the time to get back on her feet and start her own house-cleaning business.

They were building a life. Maxwell had gotten two to three cleaning jobs per day and began making payments on the rent-to-own television and her bed.

With Head Start closed, she’s lucky to get a babysitter to watch her son long enough to get one house cleaned per day. She’s already lost a few hundred dollars in wages, she said, and if it goes on longer she will have to further narrow her priorities and ambitions.

“We’re just going to keep the electricity on and eat,” Maxwell said. “We’re not going to worry about anything else.“

The perception that the government shutdown has had no demonstrable effect on the country is not true. Yes, various agencies have dipped into emergency funds to put off some of the pain. But communities big and small are feeling the effects -- and perhaps no group knows the real pain of the shutdown better than Head Start families.

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