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Congress passes Head Start bill

Congress on Wednesday passed and sent to President Bush a five-year Head Start bill that opens up the popular preschool program to more children while taking steps to see that the program is well-run and that its teachers are better qualified.

Bush, while unhappy with several aspects of the bill – particularly the failure to include language allowing religious groups receiving Head Start grants to hire and fire staffers based on their religious affiliations – is expected to sign it.

The House passed the bill 381-36. Hours later the Senate approved it 95-0.

The 42-year-old education, nutrition and health program, mainly for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, hasn’t been reauthorized since 2003. Since then, Congress has approved money for the program but has been unable to make substantial changes in it.

Head Start enrolls about 900,000 children.


Police bust casino sports gambling

An illegal sports gambling ring run out of a high-stakes poker room in an Atlantic City casino was busted Wednesday, authorities said, and 18 people were arrested, including four with mob ties.

Since March 2006, the ring took in $22 million in bets on college and professional football and basketball in the poker room of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram.

The off-the-books exchanges of cash and casino chips were unraveled only when an informant told authorities what to look for using the casino’s eye-in-the-sky surveillance cameras, Milgram said.

The suspected ringleader of the operation, Andrew Micali, 32, of Ventnor, is an associate of Philadelphia mob boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, according to a New Jersey law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the criminal complaints do not mention any reputed mob ties.

Unlike Las Vegas, Atlantic City has no legal sports book.


1 in 10 Americans hungry in 2006

More than 35.5 million people in this country went hungry in 2006 as they struggled to find jobs that can support them, a figure that was virtually unchanged from the previous year, the Agriculture Department said Wednesday.

Single mothers and their children were among the most likely to suffer, according to the study.

The 35.5 million people represented more than 1 in 10, or 12.1 percent, who said they did not have enough money or resources to get food for at least some period during the year, according to the department’s annual hunger survey. That is compared with 35.1 million people who made similar claims in 2005.

The survey was based on Census Bureau data and does not include the homeless. About three-quarters of a million people were homeless on a given day in 2005, according to federal estimates.


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