Tester brings Head Start grant, promises help for veterans
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., brought federal largesse to Anaconda Friday in the form of a grant for the local Head Start program – and also promised improvements to veterans’ services.
Tester visited the Anaconda-Deer Lodge Head Start to announce that the program had received a $354,689 Health and Human Services grant. The comprehensive early childhood development program serves 90 children ranging from 3 through 5 years old.
“Early childhood education is something we should be dealing with on a much broader level,” Tester said, noting the advantages participants receive when they go on to grade school.
According to Tester, the local Head Start had applied for the grant earlier this year, and he worked through technical issues with regional HHS officials to make sure the grant was awarded.
“This grant allows families in Anaconda to continue sending their children to Head Start where they will get a leg up and increase their shot at success,” Tester said.
Gail Mickey, Head Start director, said that the grant will fund Head Start for the rest of the fiscal year, running from July 1, 2015, through January 31, 2016. Mickey said that the program is also supported by Anaconda’s mill levy and volunteer time donated by parents and community members. “We have very strong community support,” she said.
Mickey said that Head Start has been approved for grant money through 2020 but must reapply for their $650,000 annual budget every year.
The federally funded Head Start program, now in its 50th year, has served more than 32 million children since 1965. The Anaconda-Deer Lodge program has been in place since 1967.
Earlier, Tester addressed the Disabled American Veterans Dept. of Montana Annual Convention being held at American Legion Post 21. Tester was well received by the more than 45 veterans gathered for the three-day convention. “Senator Tester has been one of our biggest advocates for veteran’s issues,” said Joe Parsetich, Montana DAV Commander and meeting chair.
Tester opened by expressing gratitude for veteran’s service, and though he acknowledged reports of mismanagement within the VA a year ago, he focused on positive changes being made since then as a result of the VA reform bill and Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, also called the Choice Act. The Choice Act focuses on improvements in staffing and infrastructure as well as providing options for care outside of the VA to increase access to care closer to home for eligible veterans.
Tester said that he would be working with Johnny Ginnity, VA Montana director, and Bob McDonald, VA Secretary, to help address the shortage of medical providers in Montana and nationwide through additional student loan support and residency opportunities for those medical graduates joining the VA workforce.
“We still need to attract rural providers to Montana,” said Tester, who is working with the University of Washington to partner with the Billings Clinic and Billings VA Clinic to create a psychiatric residency program in Montana.
“The more medical providers we train in Montana, the more that will stay in Montana,” he said.
Tester said that he also introduced a bill last month to eliminate the VA disability-claim backlog.
The news wasn’t all good. Tester said that two weeks ago, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill that is $857 million short of what the VA needs.
“We should be demanding more for the VA,” Tester said. “I need your help reminding elected leaders that war comes at a cost.”
When Tester opened up the floor for comments, many DAV members used the opportunity to express thanks to Tester for his work for veterans, although budget, VA services, retirement benefits, and the veterans’ home slated for Butte were top concerns. Eileen Greb of Butte DAV Chapter 6 put in a plug for the veterans’ home, still awaiting funding. “We’re not getting any younger,” she said. Greb thanked Tester but later commented, “One person can’t do enough. He’s working on it, but we have to look at who’s representing Montana,” she said.