Published January 20, 2022

Hoeven and Cramer Urge HHS to Rescind Mask and Vaccine Mandates on Head Start Programs

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The Dakotan
| The Dakotan
The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator John Hoeven, R-ND, and Senator Kevin Cramer, R-ND, joined Senator John Thune, R-SD, in urging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to rescind an interim final rule (IFR) that places one-size-fits-all federal mandates on Head Start programs across the nation.

Included in the IFR is a universal masking requirement for all individuals in a Head Start facility above the age of two, including staff, volunteers and children. The IFR also requires toddlers to wear masks while they are outside and it mandates that staff and volunteers be vaccinated by January 31.

The Head Start program is a federal government program that provides eligible low-income children with early education services. Program facilities are located throughout the nation, including across North Dakota, and up until this point, individual locations have been able to set and enforce their own COVID-19 protocols. Last month, Hoeven helped introduce legislation to prohibit HHS from implementing or enforcing the vaccination and masking requirements.

“Layering inflexible federal mandates onto individual Head Start programs that are experiencing varying COVID-19 transmission levels and that are already complying with guidance from their state and local public health officials, in our view, does not make sense,” the senators wrote. “In addition, this IFR could potentially create conflicts with mandates already established by state and local governments or their prohibition of such mandates.”

In addition to Hoeven, Cramer, and Thune, the letter to HHS was signed by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Click here for full text of the letter.

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