Before they adjourn and leave for the holidays, Congress has to decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of young children who are currently enrolled in Head Start, Early Head Start and child care programs with the support of funding included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

ARRA, passed in February 2009, provided $2 billion in additional funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and $2.1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start for 2009 and 2010 — the first significant new funding for these programs since 2002. These new funds have helped low-income parents, who are struggling to get and keep a job in this tough economy, afford child care and have given more children the early learning opportunities they need to succeed in school. Yet the ARRA funds are running out, leaving children and families at risk of losing these critical supports unless Congress provides additional funding for child care and Head Start for 2011.

The House took an important step by including $374 million in additional funding for CCDBG and $300 million in additional funding for Head Start in the continuing resolution passed Wednesday, which keeps the government open for the next year generally at last year’s funding levels. While the House efforts to support the children currently able to participate in child care and Head Start are needed, there is an opportunity to do more in the Senate.

We are now waiting for the Senate to act on a measure to fund the government for FY 2011. Rather than passing a basic continuing resolution, which allows little leeway for increased funding, the Senate may vote on a complete omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2011, which could offer room for more funding for programs such as CCDBG and Head Start. The Senate should take this opportunity and pass an omnibus that includes sufficient funding to ensure that no child loses their child care or Head Start.

Given that states’ budgets remain extremely tight and waiting lists for child care assistance and Head Start are growing, without Congress taking this step, there is little doubt that even more children will be left out in the cold.

You can help by calling your Senators and urging them to pass an omnibus appropriations bill that includes significant funding for early learning.