U.S. Representatives Dave Joyce (R-OH-14) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA-1) are seeking an end to the COVID-19-vaccine mandate affecting workers at Head Start facilities.
The federal Head Start program was founded in 1965 and provides numerous early-learning, wellness and parenting-support services to families with children ages five and younger who receive public assistance or have incomes below the poverty line. The program serves more than 800,000 children nationwide including 33,241 in Ohio and roughly 1,500 in Joyce’s district.
With Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), Joyce and Miller-Meeks offered similar legislation last year. Thune’s Senate version of the bill passed with the support of all Republicans and six Democrats, but the measure did not receive a vote in the House of Representatives. Joyce and Miller-Meeks emphasized that they believe their new bill, if enacted, will relieve part of Head Start’s staffing crisis to which the program’s administrators have alerted public officials.
“The vaccine mandate imposed upon Head Start facilities across Ohio and the country has exacerbated the agency’s workforce shortage, jeopardizing the development of America’s most vulnerable children,” Joyce said in a statement. “Head Start provides vital resources to children and their families, from early childhood education to job training resources for parents looking for work. I am proud to continue my work to end this outdated mandate so that no Head Start facility will have to close their doors to families who want nothing more than to give their children an equal shot at the American Dream.”
In autumn 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that employees at all of the program’s locations get the COVID vaccine. A 2021 study published by the National Head Start Association warned COVID vaccine and masking mandates could lead between 18 and 26 percent of all the programs staff to leave their positions and cause 1,300 of Head Start classrooms to close.
Last September, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana halted enforcement of the vaccine mandate for Head Start staffers in the 24 states that joined a lawsuit to end it, including the Buckeye State. Joyce and Miller-Meeks’ legislation would make Doughty’s order permanent and nationally applicable.
“We have all seen the data showing that our students have been negatively impacted by school closures and remote learning, especially in low-income and rural communities,” Miller-Meeks lamented. “Children in Head Start programs are in some of the most economically vulnerable populations and need our support. Instead of chastising staff over the COVID vaccine, we should be doing everything we can to rebuild their programs and provide children with the help they need.”
Last week, the House passed the Freedom for Health Care Workers Act which would cancel vaccine requirements for healthcare professionals working at facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds. All voting Republicans and seven Democrats supported the measure. Joyce noted that if that legislation becomes law, Head Start staffers would be the only group in the federal workforce to which the vaccine mandate still applies.
On Monday, mandate opponents won a victory in New York City, where Mayor Eric Adams (D) lifted the requirement that municipal workers get the jab. The municipal mandate led to the dismissal of 1,780 police, firefighters, teachers and other workers who refused vaccination and who are still not certain to get their jobs back.
The mayor ascribed his decision to rescind the policy to the fact that over 96 percent of city employees received their primary COVID shot. He nevertheless encouraged all city workers and residents who have not gotten vaccinated and boosted to do so.
Backers of continuous vaccination policy have gotten mostly unwelcome news of late. Last month, the U.S. Department of Defense dropped its requirement that military personnel get vaccinated. And the Republicans who control the U.S. House are currently working to reverse the Biden administration’s stipulation that most foreign air travelers get the shot.
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Ohio Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “David Joyce” by United States Congress. Photo “Mariannette Miller-Meeks” by House Creative Services. Background Photo “U.S. Capitol” by Mark Fischer. CC BY-SA 2.0.