Federal Judge Upholds|New Head Start Rule

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge upheld a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services final rule that recipients of Head Start grants must compete for new five-year grants if federal inspectors find a deficiency in the program.
     Four nonprofit community groups, including the Ohio Head Start Association, sued HHS and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, claiming that the “single deficiency trigger” is invalid because it is impermissibly retroactive, deprives them of property and liberty interests without due process and is arbitrary and capricious.
     “None of the plaintiffs’ arguments is valid,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled. “First, the DRS [designation renewal system] relies on antecedent data for future grant renewal decisions, but is not legally considered a retroactive regulation. Second, the plaintiffs failed to identify any protected property or liberty interest for due process purposes, and in any case, the defendants provide sufficient constitutional due process to Head Start agencies in making deficiency findings. Third and finally, the Secretary provided a clear rationale for departing from the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, and the regulations are not otherwise arbitrary or capricious.”
     The Head Start program awards grants to local agencies to provide child development services to low-income families. The program was established in 1965 and is administered by the Administration for Children and Families, an office of HHS.
     The program monitors grant recipients to ensure compliance. HHS’ 2011 final rule establishing the single deficiency trigger wiped out former guidelines that gave programs a chance to fix whatever deficiencies were found before their grants were renewed. Deficiencies in programs range from misusing funds to safety and health threats to children and staff.
     The judge’s 42-page memorandum and order chastised the lawyers’ “excessive use of footnotes.”
     “Across the pleadings for the three motions currently pending before the court, the court identified at least twenty-five footnotes directly addressing significant substantive issues,” the judge wrote. “Counsel in this case, for lack of a better phrase, should know better.”
     According to the ruling, several of the plaintiffs’ member agencies have been designated to compete for new five-year grants under the new rule.

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