Notice of Proposed Rule Making on Head Start Program Performance Standards Includes More Changes to Eligibility Final Rule
On June 19, 2015, The Office of Head Start (OHS) issued the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the Head Start Performance Standards. OHS last revised the Performance Standards in 1998 and now proposes revisions that will fully implement the statutory changes from the 2007 Head Start Act, enhance the quality of services, decrease the bureaucratic burdens, and provide more clarity and transparency in the regulations. The NPRM also streamlines and reorganizes the regulations into five parts:
- Program Governance;
- Program Operations;
- Financial and Administrative Requirements;
- Federal Administrative Procedures; and
We join OHS Director Dr. Blanca Enriquez in encouraging you to thoroughly review the NPRM and take this opportunity to help shape the future of Head Start by submitting comments to the NPRM by August 18, 2015.
Since everyone has been thinking about the final rule on eligibility over the past few months, we could not help but skip ahead to the NPRM sections on eligibility. Even though the eligibility final rule was issued only four months ago, to our surprise, OHS proposed more changes to 1305.2 and 1305.4 with the hopes of reducing confusion and invites the field to take a second bite at the apple by further commenting on any of the eligibility provisions. Based on comments and questions we have heard during our trainings with Head Start programs nationwide, we think the NPRM proposed changes listed below are noteworthy.
- The NPRM recommends removing the definition of family for a pregnant woman.
The eligibility final rule definition: “Family, for a pregnant woman, means all persons who financially support the pregnant woman,” prompted a flurry of questions from the field on how to determine income eligibility for pregnant women. OHS FAQs tried to clarify the confusion by explaining that the regulation did not change a long-standing policy that programs were not required to verify the income of a pregnant teen’s parents. However, OHS did not answer questions about how to calculate the family size and income for a pregnant woman if she was not a teen mother. As a result, the NPRM’s proposed change eliminates the definition of family for a pregnant woman and allows programs to use one definition to determine the income eligibility of a family.
- The NPRM allows the use of IRS Form 1040 and other documents to verify income.
The eligibility final rule conspicuously omitted IRS Form 1040 from the list of documents that programs may consider verifying a family’s income, even though the form was listed in the old rules. It is unclear whether that omission was intentional thus prohibiting the use of Form 1040. The NPRM alleviates that confusion by recommending more general language to allow programs to consider “tax forms” or “other proof of income” when verifying whether a family is income eligible. This language makes it clear that programs would be permitted to continue considering Form 1040 and a host of other documentation to verify a family’s income.
- The NPRM consolidates the eligibility requirements into one section, which removes the distinction between income and categorical eligibility.
The distinction between income and categorical eligibility was another source of confusion under the eligibility final rules. In the past, public assistance was considered as categorical eligibility, but under the final rule, it is considered as income eligible. The NPRM solution consolidates all eligibility requirements under one single provision without distinguishing between income and categorical eligibility.
What effect do the NPRM proposed changes to the eligibility regulations have on your program now? Technically speaking, no effect at all. These proposed rules have no legal effect and will not go into effect until 60 days after publication as a final rule under the Federal Register. This means that the NPRM does not change the March 12, 2015 effective date of the final rule on eligibility nor the corresponding implementation and training deadlines set forth in the final rules. These dates include the June 10, 2015 deadline to train staff and management on the new eligibility rules and the September 8, 2015 deadline to train board and policy council members. The good news is that the NPRM signifies OHS is sensitive to the challenges created by the final rule on eligibility. Check back later for more blog posts as we further review and analyze the NPRM.