In Congress, House leaders reached a bipartisan agreement to extend federal funding for a core element of Washington state’s early learning strategy, home visiting, which focuses on the first and most important three years of a child’s development.
The legislation wouldn’t fund only Washington’s work. The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program supports efforts around the country and it’s in limbo because it is scheduled to expire Sept. 30.
Supporters have been hoping to attach an extension of MIECHV to what’s known in the other Washington as must-pass legislation. They found a good candidate when House leaders agreed to attach it to a bill that would fix how Medicare pays doctors.
The new proposal isn’t perfect. It would only fund MIECHV through next March. But, it would provide stability to Washington’s home visiting work, a pillar of its early learning infrastructure. The state has made a strong and nationally-recognized commitment to home visiting. It created, for example, an innovative public-private partnership, the Home Visiting Services Account, which leverages federal and state funds to generate private matches. Federal funding is critical to the account, and right now it funds a majority of its budget.
The account funds proven programs around Washington that can not only change the trajectory of a child’s life, but an entire family’s. This work helps teenage mothers navigate the early years of parenting, families struggling to escape poverty make healthy choices for their children, and new parents find help for their child with special needs.
It’s a research-driven investment in the first three years of a child’s life that pays off with more children ready to start school, fewer in remedial education and healthier families.
But, if Congress fails to extend the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, hundreds of the state’s highest-risk new families could lose support that would give their children a better start and chance in life.
The legislation is far from final and will move to the Senate. If the two bills are different, negotiators from both chambers would have to hammer out a compromise, vote one more time and send it to President Barack Obama.
Home visiting funding, though, is moving forward and that means Washington could continue its commitment to home visiting and its at-risk families.