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Mel Gravely

OHS Announces Additional Funding & Flexibility for Head Start during COVID-19

Last week, we watched a recorded webinar called “Fiscal Management During the COVID-19 Emergency.” The webinar, which first aired on May 22, featured Office of Head Start (OHS) Director, Dr. Deborah Bergeron, explaining the additional funding available through the CARES Act and how that funding will be distributed in the coming months. She opened the presentation by saying:

“Under the CARES Act, $750 million is available to Head Start/Early Head Start programs, including up to $500 million for summer programs. Due to the continued fluidity of the ongoing pandemic, the Office of Head Start recognizes it is difficult for grantees to fully plan and commit to a program design and budget for a summer program. The updated funding approach allows grantees to continue their plans to use CARES funding to operate summer programs, while maintaining flexibility to repurpose those funds for other one-time activities related to COVID-19, if needed.”

During her presentation, Dr. Bergeron and the team at OHS made it clear that as Head Start facilities and the systems that support them reopen, it’s important to ensure that families don’t fall through the cracks. In an email announcement, the Administration for Children & Families (ACF Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson said,

“During this pandemic, it is important to support programs that enrich and enlighten children, families, and communities as they work towards their goals and make concentrated efforts to improve their future post the pandemic.”

In her webinar, Dr. Bergeron focuses on the two elements that will help close the gaps during the pandemic so Head Start can continue to fulfill its mission. Those two elements are funding and flexibility. The CARES Act has allocated the funding. ACF is providing the flexibility.


We won’t go into the detailed process of applying for funding. ECLKC has put out some good resources on the COVID-19 response and the CARES Act. But we do want to briefly explain the two types of funding available and the restrictions with allocating those dollars.

  1. Additional funding for summer programs
    Most grantees will receive sufficient funding to implement a summer program as planned. Others may need to revise their original plans to align with the adjusted one-time funding amount by formula, based on each grantee’s funded enrollment. The amount every grantee will receive will be approximately $875 per slot.
  2. One-time COVID-19 funding
    The summer program funds will be added to the existing supplemental COVID-19 one-time applications already in progress.

Both types of funding are limited to prevention, preparedness, and response to COVID-19. It is very important that all CARES Act funding and COVID responses are documented with detail. From how you’re making spending decisions, to how the funds are actually spent. Budget management is the foundation to an effective response, both with your base grant funds and with your one-time funded amount.


On flexibility, Dr. Bergeron states that their guidelines will allow grantees to be creative while making programmatic changes or implementing approaches to adhere to state and local guidance.

In her webinar presentation, Dr. Bergeron gives examples of this flexibility in regards to expenses that require prior approval:

  1. Prior approval for the purchase of equipment (45 CFR §75.308(c)(1)(xi)). Grantees may purchase equipment needed to respond to COVID-19 with a value of up to $25,000 without prior ACF approval. This waiver applies to purchases made between January 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
  2. Budget modifications (45 CFR §75.308(e)). In order to allow grantees more flexibility to spend funds as needed to respond to COVID-19 and, when possible, quickly move to re-open closed centers, prior approval is waived for budget transfers between direct cost categories for an aggregate amount not to exceed $1 million between January 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

Dr. Bergeron explains that this change “gives a great deal of flexibility, but also a great deal of responsibility, for those monitoring the budget to move funds around as needed.”

Unfortunately, ACF/OHS doesn’t have a highly specific list of what funds can and can’t be spent on. Because COVID-19 has affected every community, staff members, and families in different ways there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, they do give some general principles and examples to follow on the types of expenses they think would be appropriate:

  1. Materials and supplies that promote the remote delivery of services. Such as electronic tablets, notebook computers, phone cards, and internet access.
  2. Costs associated with meals and snacks, delivery charges, packaging, and special dietary needs.
  3. Equipment, supplies and contracted services needed to prepare centers to re-open is seen as acceptable spending. This may include items such as personal protective equipment, thermometers, additional cleaning materials and supplies, room dividers, and additional janitorial contracting.

Children and families still need the resources that Head Start provides, and summer programs are critical to offset losses in Head Start services. Dr. Bergeron says that grantees planning to operate summer programs are expected to continue to move forward with those plans if able to do so. Grantees that were not planning to operate summer programs now have the flexibility to do so.

After summer, additional funding through the CARES Act and the flexibility to spend it where it’s needed to be prepared, ensures that Head Start will once again be the model to follow in the early childhood education space.

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