With Deadline Days Away, Fixes Floundering for Federal Health, Early Ed Programs Serving 9M Kids
Update, September 29 – Chairman Greg Walden has announced that the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be reviewing the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) during the week of October 2nd. He emphasized the importance of maintaining the bipartisan nature of CHIP, which has been in existence for 20 years.
There are two programs in the United States that cater to more than 9 million children. These programs, the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, provide crucial health insurance coverage and early childhood education. As of now, there seems to be a funding gap, as their funding is set to expire on September 30th when the fiscal year ends. Despite having received bipartisan support in the past, it appears that their funding might be interrupted for some time.
The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program funds regular visits by healthcare professionals to assist at-risk new parents and families with health, education, and parenting issues. In fiscal year 2016, this program supported 160,000 families at a cost of approximately $372 million. These home visits have been linked to better academic outcomes for children, improved economic opportunities for families, and a reduction in child abuse. This program has garnered support from numerous groups, including early education advocates and law enforcement agencies.
On the other hand, the Children’s Health Insurance Program provides low-cost health insurance to almost 9 million children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford other insurance options. The funding for this program is a shared responsibility between the federal and state governments. The federal government’s contribution for this fiscal year was around $17 billion. This program was introduced in 1997 through a bill sponsored by the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Although progress has been made toward reauthorizing the home visiting program, there are still concerns about its funding. The House recently passed a bill to extend the program for the next five years by a narrow margin of 214-209. Some Democrats opposed the bill due to its requirement for programs, mostly administered by states, to gradually start raising additional funds. By 2022, states will be responsible for covering 50% of the costs. Representative Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Florida, expressed concerns about poorer states with limited investments in home visiting struggling to meet the matching requirements.
Republicans also suggested funding the program by preventing individuals with outstanding arrest warrants for felony offenses from receiving Social Security benefits. GOP lawmakers argued that cutting off these benefits and the state match was necessary to comply with a House rule that demands fully offsetting programs.
Advocates, who doubt that states will be able to generate the required additional funds, are more hopeful about a Senate bill that considers necessary modifications without the need for a state match. Diedra Henry-Spires, co-leader of the Home Visiting Coalition, an organization representing various advocacy groups, including pediatricians, early education advocates, law enforcement, and teen pregnancy prevention, expressed support for the Senate bill. She highlighted its focus on the interests of states, program models, advocates, children, parents, families, and the importance of increased accountability.
As of now, there have been no significant legislative developments regarding the Senate bill. Henry-Spires refrained from speculating whether Congress would reauthorize the programs before the approaching deadline, expressing her disappointment at the lack of progress given the calendar constraints. A potential option could be a short-term extension while lawmakers continue to negotiate a comprehensive agreement, but advocates currently have limited information on the matter.
In the event that federal funds cease, program closures will occur gradually as the funds deplete, potentially resulting in the layoff of staff members who have built strong relationships with the families they serve.
Regarding the CHIP reauthorization, leaders from the Democratic and Republican parties on the Senate Finance Committee introduced a reauthorization bill earlier this month. However, the bill has yet to make any progress.
An end to CHIP would also lead to a loss of health insurance for children across the country, the impact of which would largely depend on their place of residence.
During the summer, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey among states to determine their preparedness for a gap in federal CHIP funding and the potential consequences they might face.
Nevada, as an example, projected that it would exhaust its funds by late November or early December. This critical situation compelled authorities to suspend new enrollments starting from November 1, with the termination of coverage set for November 30. In order to inform families about this development, notifications were required to be dispatched by the end of October, as per the information provided by Kaiser.
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