‘Single mothers in Detroit’ could be the losers with budget cuts

March 17th, 2017
From front to back: Teachers Cynthia Braxton, Linda Miller and Vanessa Vinson work with children at the Head Start program at Durfee Elementary–Middle School in southwest Detroit.
‘Single mothers in Detroit’ could be the losers with budget cuts

March 17, 2017
Crain’s Detroit Business
By Sherri Welch and Dustin Walsh

“Single mothers in Detroit” took the national spotlight this week when President Donald Trump’s budget office director aimed to justify cuts to social service funding, saying those women couldn’t be expected to pay their taxes toward it.

But that’s exactly who stands to be hurt by the proposed budget cuts.

For low-income residents in Southeast Michigan, including single mothers and the nonprofit agencies on which they rely, the 2018 federal budget proposal could slash critical social safety net services.

They range from community block grant funding that supports programs like Meals on Wheels, which ensure senior citizens have food, to Head Start, which gets America’s youngest citizens ready to enter school.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier this week that low-income people can’t be expected to pay for social services. “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no,” he said.

With cuts to Head Start funding, “families would be devastated,” said Shameakia Dunwoody, who is a 42-year-old single mother of two whose 5-year-old son is enrolled in Head Start at Durfee Elementary-Middle School in Detroit, one of 12 sites operated by the nonprofit Southwest Solutions.

Some of those who bring their children to the Head Start program are grandparents raising their grandchildren on disability assistance, alone, Dunwoody said.

Others are single parents, like her, working two jobs to make ends meet.

Funding for Head Start programs could be among the programs in the crosshairs as part of an 18 percent or $15.1 billion cut proposed for the Department of Health and Human Services as part of the president’s budget proposal.

Head Start funding hasn’t been specifically targeted in Trump’s budget blueprint released Thursday. But the budget is closely aligned with a similar plan put forward by The Heritage Foundation, which calls for a 10 percent cut in federal Head Start funding annually until the program sunsets in 10 years.

Paul Winfree serves as director of budget policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council for the White House and likely author of the budget proposal. He is the former director economic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been a strong proponent of eliminating the Head Start program.

Head Start funding cuts would largely impact people who live below the poverty line and rely on the 100 percent subsidized preschool/daycare program that enables them to work.

The program helps children develop cognitive, social and behavioral skills and provides home-based support and health and nutrition education programs for pregnant women.

Ninety percent of the children accepted into Head Start programs are from families living below the federal poverty line.

Parents and grandparents of the children at the Durfee Head Start program have relatives trying to help, “but they can only help so much,” Dunwoody said.

When she first enrolled her then 3-year-old son Randal into the Head Start program two years ago, she was working two full-time jobs.

She’d landed positions at a call center helping address computer problems for hospitals and doing taxes full-time at H&R Block, thanks to her bachelor’s degree in accounting and computer information systems from Davenport University. But she needed to work both jobs to support her family.

She took a bus to get her son to the Head Start program at Durfee, then another to her first job and another to her second job on days when they overlapped. Most days, by the time she got home from the jobs, her sons were asleep. So she couldn’t prepare them for school as much as she would have liked.

For low-income parents who work full time and can’t afford daycare, Head Start is where foundations start, Dunwoody said.

Children learn to recognize letters, words and important, everyday things like associating a stop sign with the need to stop, she said. Her son Randal also learned how to share and play with others, areas he needed to strengthen because he’s an only child, of sorts, given that his brother is 14 years older.

Keyshawn, now 19, also attended Head Start when he was young. Now he’s working toward an e-business/e-commerce degree at Saint Augustine’s University in North Carolina.

Dunwoody is now working just one of the jobs and no longer has to take the bus after saving enough money to buy a car. And her youngest son can’t wait to enter kindergarten in the fall.

The Durfee Head Start site is one of a dozen Southwest Solutions operates in Detroit. Those centers serve 540 children and employ 157.

The program operates on a $9 million budget, with about 75 percent of it coming from the federal government and the remainder from private donations of cash and in-kind services and products, said Donna Cielma, senior director of early childhood and school-based services.

“Right now we’re not anticipating any cuts to Head Start, but obviously, these families are the most in need, at an income level they could not afford the high cost of daycare,” if there were cuts, she said.

“These children need the services provided in order to enter kindergarten ready to learn.”

Though Head Start funding hasn’t officially been targeted for cuts in the president’s early budget blueprint, the broader cuts proposed for the Department of Health and Human Services are alarming, she said.

The department funds a multitude of programs, many of them supporting social safety net services for those in need.

Among other cuts, Trump’s budget proposal would cut $150 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. WIC provides grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children who are at nutritional risk.

The budget also calls for the elimination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a $3.2 billion program that pays the heating bills of low-income citizens. In 2015, more than 370,000 low-income households in Michigan received heating assistance through the program, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. More than 170,000 households received assistance during a crisis, such when the heat is shut off due to nonpayment.

To qualify for the various programs, residents’ income must range 110 percent to 150 percent of the federal poverty level or below. The 2017 poverty level is $12,060 for a single person, $24,600 for a family of four.

Bob Heaton, public information officer for the Michigan HHS, would not speculate on whether Michigan could or would attempt to fund those households in the event of a federal cut.

“(Federal) dollars do provide heating assistance to a large number of low-income Michiganders,” Heaton said in an email to Crain’s. “It’s still very early in the budget process, but we’ll be closely watching what’s happening in Washington, D.C. And it will be important for Michigan to work with our congressional delegation during the budget process.”


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