A Moment with Dr. Moore

September 23, 2020

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus recently issued a stirring plea to Congress on behalf of our country’s migrant workers. “The coronavirus health crisis has presented our nation with challenges unlike any we have seen in our lifetime,” the caucus wrote. “During this crisis, our frontline farmworkers are laboring every day to put food on America’s dinner table,” so “it has never been more important to include protections for these vital members of our communities.”

To meet the needs of the workers, who are mainly Hispanic, the caucus asked lawmakers to provide financial assistance, safer working conditions, and more access to health care. It also called on Congress to “support the child care needs of farmworkers by expanding the eligibility for child care programs, along with additional funding and flexibility for the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.”

This vibrant program meets pressing needs because the typical migrant family has long hours and works under harsh conditions that include stifling heat and exposure to pesticides, according to Cleofas Rodriguez, Jr., Executive Director of the National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association. Migrant families must sometimes make harsh choices about child care, he explained, such as leaving young children in the care of an older sibling, leaving them alone in a vehicle, or sometimes bringing them along to work.

So Migrant Head Start is a life changer for families. “Our program is committed to ensuring that their youngest kids have a safe early learning environment,” said Rodriguez, whose parents once worked in the fields. It also meets children where they are by teaching kids in their own language and taking a multicultural approach that produces results.

I’ve seen the impact the program makes because I often served Hispanic families in Head Start before joining the Council for Professional Recognition. I find myself thinking of them as we mark Hispanic Heritage Month this fall. I’m reminded of how hard they work and how much they want their youngest children to succeed.

Many of the parents are like Lety, a mom of five who picks lettuce and peppers in New Jersey—and says she loves the program. “There are different classes, they learn numbers, their ABCs, all kinds of things. It was important to me that they wouldn’t fall behind once they started regular school.” And that matters to her because her dream is for her kids to someday become teachers, lawyers or doctors. She wants them to have “un trabajo mejor que el mío,” a job that is better than mine.

Lety had to put her dream on hold when nearly all Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs closed for a time during the pandemic. This put an added strain on agricultural workers, who are especially vulnerable to the virus and often excluded from stimulus relief. So, the programs did their best to support migrant families from afar by providing food, books and learning materials in their children’s home language.

The challenges faced by these families is a special concern for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. It has also looked beyond its wheelhouse to worry about the well-being of other vulnerable groups. This summer, it partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to promote child care assistance in the next COVID-19 package. In a joint letter, the leaders of the Congressional Tri-Caucus urged the Senate to “make substantial investments in the early childhood sector.” And the Council supports their plea. We know that quality care and education give all children the head start they need.

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