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The President’s Budget Speaks Louder Than His Words on School Safety

| February 22, 2018 |

Last week’s devastating mass shooting at a Florida high school has led to renewed calls on Congress to act to end the scourge of gun violence in America.

Various lawmakers, including the President, have pledged to do everything in their power to keep this senseless tragedy from repeating itself.

First and foremost, the best way that Congress can protect our children is by finally mustering the courage to pursue commonsense gun laws.

But there is another important, and complementary, step that Congress can take to guard against these senseless tragedies: reject, outright, the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 19) budget request.

Released February 12th, the President’s Budget proposal would negatively impact children across a whole range of categories, from nutrition and housing to income support and child welfare.

But in light of the events in Florida, which claimed the lives of 17 children and wrought trauma and harm on countless more, it is worth highlighting that this budget does not align with the administration’s new promises to make school safety its top priority. In fact, the President’s FY 19 Budget includes dangerous cuts to education, health, and law enforcement programs that are aimed at keeping our children safe from violence and helping them cope with trauma.

Among its many cuts to the Department of Education, the President’s Budget guts the Safe Schools and Citizen Education portfolio, which supports local education agencies (LEAs) in their efforts to foster safe and healthy school environments. The administration suggests eliminating Prevent Grants, which fund violence prevention and mental health services in schools, as well as Promoting Student Resilience Grants, which build capacity to address the comprehensive behavioral and mental health needs students in communities that have experienced significant civil unrest.

Along with removing these prevention funds, the Administration would also eliminate grants that help schools and students respond to, and cope with, violence, such as Project School Emergency Response to Violence Grants (which help students recover from a violent or traumatic event in which the learning environment has been disrupted) and Readiness and Emergency Management Technical Assistance Centers: which help schools work with community partners to develop high-quality emergency management plans.

Making matters worse, of the $43 million that the administration does request for School Safety National Activities, these funds would receive new, narrow parameters so that they are specifically designated to combat the opioid crisis. While funds to combat the opioid epidemic’s harm to children are essential, it is counterproductive to source this spending by cutting complementary school safety programs.

Meanwhile, the administration’s FY 19 budget also requests cuts to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), both of which house programs that emphasize youth violence prevention. Neither bureau has released its detailed budget justification for FY 19, but the overall request for Health and Human Services requests roughly $19 million cut to the CDC’s Injury Prevention and Control center, which includes funds aimed at researching and preventing youth violence. Meanwhile, the administration has proposed a $111 million cut to Programs of National and Regional Importance under SAMSHA, which include Project AWARE (which encompasses evidence-based violence prevention and community youth engagement programs) and Youth Violence Prevention Grants.

Even law enforcement programs aimed at school safety aren’t safe in this budget. The FY 19 Budget eliminates the Department of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative. This program, funded at $50 million in FY 17, funds research and pilot demonstrations for reducing school violence.

Former Vice President Joe Biden famously once said, ““Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

The administration has said it will prioritize school safety, but the deep cuts in this budget tell a different story. If President Trump is serious about investing in safer schools, recommitting federal dollars to these education, health, and justice programs is an excellent place to start.

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Leaves Children Behind

| February 20, 2018 |

The release of the administration’s infrastructure plan and the FY19 President’s Budget shines a light on Trump’s legislative priorities (Spoiler: minimal good news for children).

The White House plans to allocate $1.5 trillion for repairing and upgrading America’s infrastructure over the next 10 years—though only $200 billion of that sum will come from the federal government, leaving state and local governments to come up with the rest.

Trump’s promise to rebuild America’s infrastructure was a driving point in his recent State of the Union address and throughout his campaign. In his promise he pledged to fix “inner cities,” rebuild highways, bridges, airports, schools, and hospitals. These are presented as great priorities, considering that America is long overdue for an infrastructure revamp. Yet children have once again been left behind in Trump’s agenda.

For example, the plan fails to mention school revitalization, which is shocking—public schools are the second largest sector of the country’s infrastructure after roads and highways. In public schools alone, 50 million students and 3 million teachers across the country spend the majority of their day in facilities that are falling apart.

“Our young people are 25 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future, and it is critical they have the resources they need to learn and excel…” – Representative Debbie Dingell

Students cannot be expected to perform their best in schools—and carry our country into a brighter future— when the main buildings for many schools are more than 40 years old, and in some instances, even have lead paint chipping off the walls. Studies show that “good and stable facilities can increase student achievement, reduce chronic absenteeism, drop-outs, and suspensions and even improve teacher retention.”

This is not a regional issue. Rural and urban schools both experience resource shortages and structural problems. It is, however, an issue that predominately impacts impoverished communities of color.

Local school districts bear the brunt of public school costs, with the federal government only contributing about 8 percent to K-12 programs—they argue that funding should be the responsibility of the state. How are less affluent states and local school districts expected to fund school revitalization on top of the average 92 percent they already pay for the cost of K-12 programs (including the average 99.8 percent of costs for maintaining school buildings)? Now, Trump is seeking to reduce education spending by 10.5 percent. That’s a $7 billion cut to the Department of Education, much of it from public schools.

Instead of investing in public school programs or prioritizing school infrastructure projects, the administration intends to promote school choice policies.

In giving parents alternative schooling options, the administration claims that all students, even those living in economically disadvantaged areas, will have the ability to reach their full potential.

School choice may give students more education opportunities, but it comes at the expense of digging into already limited public school funds, which the administration plans to cut by roughly $4.59 billion in FY19.

Additionally, school choice voucher programs are risky if implemented poorly. Many argue that it promotes a system of segregation rather than integration if resources, such as transportation, aren’t easily accessible. Yet Trump does not address this concerns in either his budget request or his infrastructure blueprint.

Education is not the only area Trump’s infrastructure plan neglects. Promoting safe learning and teaching environments is critical, but so is investment in training programs that can connect youth who are either disconnected from school and the workforce to job training and employment opportunities.

Youth unemployment rates were at 9 percent in July 2017, which was greater than the national unemployment average, 4.4 percent that same year. This demonstrates the need to invest in youth training programs, yet the President’s FY 19 Budget aims to divest funding to major federal programs like Job Corps (a 24 percent cut) and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Training (a 40 percent cut). Meanwhile, youth training is never mentioned in the workforce development section of Trump’s infrastructure blueprint.

The fact that Trump’s infrastructure plan ignores children’s issues like school infrastructure and youth unemployment does not bode well for our nation’s future. We may need to rebuild America’s infrastructure, but we also need to rebuild our commitment to putting kids and families first in federal budget and policy decisions.

It Hasn’t Been Enough. But it Could Be.

| February 16, 2018 |

Enough with the same responses we get every single time there is a shooting and our children die.

On December 14, 2012, 22 beautiful first-grade children were slaughtered in Newtown, CT, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in their classrooms. Six adults were also killed. In the afterschock, we all said never again. Since then, there have been nearly 300 school shootings.

The latest happened two days ago, on Valentine’s Day at a high school in Broward County, Florida, and at least 17 students and adults are dead, with more injured. It is the seventeenth school shooting this year. It is February.

There have been horrendous school shootings before this in Colorado, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon. Those are only a few that are considered among the “worst.” There are hundreds more we don’t hear about. I think parents will tell you that even one child being threatened by a gun at school is unthinkable, unacceptable, and traumatizing. Killed?

The Gun Violence Archive finds that there have been 1,607 mass killings since Sandy Hook. That is more than one a day.

I’m not going to say, “When will political leaders in Congress have the courage to do something?” or “When will people stop saying their thoughts and prayers are with gun victims and then not do anything?” or any of what basically amount to echo chamber (albeit sincere) statements.

I’m not going to say, “When will enough be enough?”

Let’s be honest, finally. It seems nothing is enough.

It doesn’t work. It has never worked. Yesterday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for more hearings on guns and mental health. Check. Experts are all over TV telling parents what signs to look for in their teenagers that might indicate a tendency toward violence. Check. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, said yesterday:

“This is one of those moments where we just need to step back and count our blessings,” he told reporters Thursday at a news conference at the Capitol. “We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically, and just pulling together. This House, and the whole country, stands with the Parkland community.”

Check. None of these things work, but they happen like clockwork with every shooting that ends up on TV (which are only a few). And while this may seem like a side point it’s not — there is no question in my mind that Paul Ryan loves his children. Somehow he, and so many other leaders, are able to separate that from the horror in front of our eyes on TV. Not to be partisan, I watched Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz speak, describing how Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School is a neighboring school to her daughter’s high school in Broward County. Her love and concern for her daughter were palpable as she spoke about needing to come together and do something.

These are good people in positions of power. I think they must be, or at least some of them, as frustrated and horrified as the rest of us. Surely, they want this to stop.

But it doesn’t stop. And yes, our children are more stressed than ever, and the internet is everywhere and shows unspeakable violence that affects people’s minds, especially those who may be predisposed to mental illness or otherwise have some instability. Watching your teenagers for signs of withdrawal or tendencies toward violence is a necessity for all parents, but it won’t fix the gun problem. Mental health is a huge factor, but not the root cause.

Is it true, what some commentators say, that until one is touched personally by violence, we just don’t feel it? We soon go back to our everyday lives. I think it’s part of it.

But very few people mention a root cause of all this. That is, to state the more than obvious – guns, but in conjunction – the influence and impact of hundreds of millions of dollars upon our political system and some of our elected officials from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA represents less than one-fifth of all gun owners and it claims to speak for the people of this country. It’s reach is far and wide because of the money it yields.

Sandy Hook captured the nation in a way that other shootings have not, because the victims were six- and seven-year-olds. Babies in their classrooms doing schoolwork. It’s unthinkable.

Here is a listing of all the actions taken following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Among them, President Obama issued 23 Executive Orders and 12 legislative proposals, including funding for mental health. The NRA opposed every single one.

Connecticut’s Governor Dan Malloy and the CT General Assembly worked together nearly seamlessly after Sandy Hook and four months later, passed the the second toughest gun laws in the country (behind California). Collaborative iniaitives that began then to address mental health and the role of schools, parents, community leaders continue to this day.

Still, it’s not enough.

The United States is infected by guns. It is a sickness that cannot be eradicated by one state in the face of horrendous tragedy, or by addressing secondary symptoms of a cultural illness. It can only be addressed, fully, at its source. That is guns and the NRA.

If pictures are worth a thousand words, here are two thousand describing our country as compared to other industrialized nations.

From the Council on Foreign Relations:

As stated by Javier Zarracina in Vox, “Looking at the entire world, countries in Central America like Honduras, El Salvador, or Mexico have the most gun homicides per capita. But among the developed countries, none gets even close to the US.”

In one country – Australia – Prime Minister John Howard decided it was time for change following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in which 35 people were killed by a man using semi-automatic weapons. Howard wore a bullet-proof vest when he announced the gun restrictions in 1996. The government succeeded in passing several tough laws, including the banning of several types of weapons, and a government buyback program. There was not another mass killing for 20 years. Australia does not, however, have a domestic gun lobby similar to the NRA.

Daniel Webster, a researcher specializing in gun violence at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote that it would be challenging to do this in the United States, but that the “experience in Australia over the past 2 decades since enactment of the NFA National Firearms Agreement provides a useful example of how a nation can come together to forge life-saving policies despite political and cultural divides.”

An article by Nicholas Kristof last year very effectively describes, with words and pictures, the United States as an outlier on gun laws and gun ownership; and how restricting guns will stop gun killings.

So what will be enough here in the United States?

If we want hearings, how about hearings on the NRA’s influence on gun legislation and where are that funding is coming from and going? There is now an allegation that the NRA has accepted funding from Russia, which would be illegal. We don’t know if that’s true, but we must find out.

How about exposing the absurdity, once and for all, that the National Rifle Association speaks for the majority of people in this country? It does not.

How about banning once-banned assault weapons? The federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004. Experts, research, data, and even polls show that they are linked to all mass killings and the actual U.S. public (not the public claimed by the NRA) doesn’t want them.

When you look at history, some of the most effective actions have been led by the people–often parents. Look at the impact on drunk driving once Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) launched. There are several groups for sanity on guns that have mobilized effectively – Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety, a group specifically devoted to defeating public officials beholden to the NRA.

If we have truly had enough, isn’t it time to come to Washington and demand action? Shut things down. There is support here. The Senate was shut down when Senator Chris Murphy launched a gun control filibuster in 2016, following the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. While Senator Murphy represents Connecticut, a state supportive of gun restrictions, other Senators took fairly tough actions politically, including Senators Joe Manchin, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Bob Casey.

We have to face the fact that none of this has been enough. But it could be. Something will tip this, something has to. Could it be now?

Maybe this time will be enough because, this time, we are hearing from the teens themselves, children still. I so hope they will continue to be the very clear, direct, and rational voices to adults that we truly and desperately need.

One survivor of the horrific massacre is 17-year-old David Hogg. When asked if he had a message for lawmakers, Congress or the president, he responded, “My message to lawmakers in Congress is, Please, take action. Ideas are great. Ideas are wonderful…But what’s more important is actual action, and pertinent action, that results in saving thousands of children’s lives. Please, take action.”

The State of Play for DACA and Dreamers

| February 9, 2018 |

On Friday morning, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act which included important gains for children and families such as:

  • An additional four-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), to bring it up to 10 years
  • Reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program
  • Medicaid and disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
  • Funding to combat the opioid epidemic, and funding for the Child Care and Dependent Block Grant

Missing from this deal, however, is a solution for the more than 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Last year, the administration eliminated protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. These young people have proven their dedication to this nation, and have shown incredible resilience in their ability to pursue their dreams of becoming productive citizens of the United States. In addition, they have continued to further their education, strengthen their job skills, and volunteer to protect their communities all without the certainty of what their future may hold.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held the floor of the House in a record- setting, eight-hour speech, telling stories of DACA recipients from across the country.

This filibuster-style protest was in response to recent comments made by House Speaker Paul Ryan that he will not bring any immigration bill to the floor that does not meet the framework set by the White House. The White House framework includes a vast list enforcement reforms, $25 billion dollars for wall funding, elimination of the diversity visa lottery, and reduction in family-based migration by allowing family members to only sponsor their spouse and minor children.

Shortly after the passage of the budget deal, Senate Majority Leader McConnell followed through with his promise to begin the debate on immigration next week.

Congressional proposals on the table include:

  • The Dream Act introduced by Sens. Durbin (D-IL) and Graham (R-SC) provides conditional legal status and a path to citizenship for certain long-term residents who entered the U.S. as children (known as Dreamers).
  • A bipartisan proposal by the Gang of 6, Sens. Flake (R-AZ), Durbin (D-IL.), Graham (R-SC), Gardner (R-CO), Bennet (D-CO) and Menendez (D-NJ) includes funding for border security in the form of new technology as well as planning for structures along the border, pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, and ending the diversity visa lottery.
  • Hurd (R-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA) have introduced the Uniting and Securing America Act (USA) Act of 2018. This bill has bipartisan support and includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, funding for border security measures including new technology and targeting ports of entry. This bill also seeks to address the underlying causes of migration from the Northern Triangle.
  • McCain (R-AZ) and Coons (D-DE) introduced a companion bill to the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act.
  • Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760). This bill focuses on decreasing legal immigration, mandates employers use the E-verify system and calls for vast increases in border and interior enforcement. DACA recipients are given a provisionary legal stay that must be renewed every three years.

As an organization committed to health and well-being of all children we urge Congress to focus on the urgent matter in front of them.

DACA recipients and their families, including 200,000 U.S. citizen children, are facing a great deal of uncertainty and fear each day that passes without a solution.

Congress has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the children who were brought to this country at no fault of their own and have grown up only knowing the United States as their home. We also ask that members of Congress uphold the best interest of the children and families involved in all decisions regarding the long-term impact of immigration policies, including the DACA program.

The right thing to do now is to follow through with the promise to protect Dreamers.

Mr. President, Actions Speak Louder Than Words

| February 6, 2018 |

Although President Trump rarely raises or addresses children’s issues, during his State of the Union address last Tuesday, there were a few occasions where kids were acknowledged. His most direct and pointed statement was when Trump said:

But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.

Seriously, that is a terrific statement. But, those words are meaningless unless they translate into policies that help and improve the lives of our nation’s children. So, how are the President’s policies for children?

Trump Proposed Divesting in Our Nation’s Children

First and foremost, a President’s budget can tell you a great deal. Former Vice President Joe Biden used to say and even tweeted:

Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.

In an annual analysis called Children’s Budget of the share of federal funding dedicated to children, President Obama repeatedly proposed increased investments in our nation’s children, including initiatives to improve children’s health, early childhood, education, and child nutrition throughout his eight years in office.

So, did President Trump’s first budget proposal reflect a similar “value” in investing in our nation’s children last year?

According to Children’s Budget 2017, funding for children would have dropped from 7.75 percent in FY 2017 to just 7.47 percent in Trump’s proposed FY 2018 budget — the lowest percentage in over a decade.

Fortunately, Trump has an opportunity to reverse course and live up to his stated concern about children when the President releases his FY 2019 budget proposal on February 12 — just days from now.

We would also urge him to push Congress to:

  • fix the federal budget process and finalize this year’s budget without further delay, as it does real harm to children and the country is already more than four months into the current fiscal year without a budget agreement;
  • lift the discretionary spending caps with parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending;
  • raise the allocations for congressional appropriations subcommittees that support programs designed to help our children succeed;
  • protect mandatory spending programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP or food stamps) that invest in helping low-income children and families; and,
  • provide immediate relief to the many families with children struggling to recover from various natural disasters.

Trump Opposed an Expansion of the Child Tax Credit to Protect Low-Income Working Families

In another test, Congress had the opportunity to make significant strides in providing tax relief to working families with children. Since the $1.5 billion package included significant cuts in corporate taxes and repeal of the personal exemption, which disproportionately hurt families with children, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed doubling the Child Tax Credit to $2,000 and to make it refundable against payroll tax liability.

In light of the repeal of the personal exemption, Sen. Rubio repeatedly noted that this was the only way to ensure that working families with children would be to double the Child Tax Credit and he reached out to the Trump Administration and the President’s daughter, Ivaka Trump, to request their support.

As Sen. Rubio explained:

Providing significant tax relief to working families shouldn’t be a final box to check after all of the lobbyists have had their fill. As Congress works on a tax reform package, families must be our priority. We cannot lose sight of what should be the primary goal of tax reform for our time. . . Doing so would ensure that lower-income Americans will not be left out of the biggest legislative undertaking of this Congress.

Most important, expanding the child tax credit would align our nation’s tax code with what every parent already knows to be true: Raising children is the most important job we will ever have.

Despite support for the Rubio-Lee Amendment from his daughter Ivanka to help low-income working families with children, the President opposed it. Consequently, the Rubio-Lee Amendment failed in the Senate by a vote of 29–71.

The tax bill also failed children in a number of other ways. Ron Brownstein wrote in The Atlantic:

The House and Senate measures shower enormous benefits on households at the top of the economic ladder, a group that by all indications is older and whiter than the population overall. Then it hands the bill for those benefits largely to younger generations, who will pay through more federal debt; less spending on programs that could benefit them; and, eventually, higher taxes.

Trump Supported Billions of Dollars in Cuts to Children’s Health

As a candidate for president, Trump repeatedly promised to not cut Medicaid.

And yet, as the health debate dominated much of Congress’s attention throughout 2017, President Trump proposed significant Medicaid in his own budget.

Even worse, he supported the $700–880 billion in Medicaid cuts in the House and Senate health “reform” bills that disproportionately would have harmed children. In fact, according to a study by Avalere of the Graham-Cassidy bill that was supported by the President in the Senate, it was estimated that the bill would have cut Medicaid for senior citizens by 1.9 percent and for children by 31.4 percent over 10 years.

To compound the threat to children’s health, Trump also proposed billions of dollars in cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Not sure how any of that squares with the statement that his “greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America’s children.”

Trump Proposed Billions in Cuts to Education Programs

And last, in his speech, the President also said:

. . .let us invest in workforce development and job training. Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.

Again, that would be terrific, except for the fact that the President proposed cutting funding for vocation education in his FY 2017 budget proposal. As the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss writes:

Despite his stated enthusiasm for vocational training, his first proposed budget last year sought $168 million in cuts to grants that fund career and technical education programs in high schools. Congress balked at most of that request.

On a broader level related to children, the President also said:

I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.

Of course, if you want “our youth to grow up to achieve great things,” investing in their education would be a logical thing to do. Between 2011 and 2016, Congress slashed federal education programs on an inflation-adjusted basis by 17.3 percent. The President could have chosen to urge Congress to reverse course, but instead, his budget sought to double-down on the cuts.

In addition to the cuts he proposed for vocational education in his budget, the President proposed more than $9 billion in overall cuts to education programs. As Moriah Balingit of the Washington Post points out:

Trump seeks to slash $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, including after-school programs, teacher training, and career and technical education. His proposal calls for reinvesting $1.4 billion of the savings into promoting his top education priority: school choice, including $250 million for vouchers to help students attend private and religious schools. The net result would a 13.6 percent reduction in spending in the next fiscal year.

If we truly value our kids, we must invest in them and their future. Words alone are meaningless.

The President has two important opportunities to make his actions match his words. First, in the on-going discussions related to the FY 2018 budget, the President should support lifting the federal budget caps on non-defense discretionary programs. As 55 organizations in the Children’s Budget Coalition wrote:

There are approximately 200 programs that critically impact children in these spending bills with over 100 falling under the Labor-HHS spending bill. These programs are critical to assisting children and providing them with resources necessary to leading a long and productive life.

We cannot continue down this divestment path — our children deserve better.

Second, when he releases his FY 2019 budget on February 12, the President should direct his Administration to adhere to his words and hold the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) accountability to making investments in our nation’s children.

The President himself once tweeted:

Investing in our children would be something visionary because they are our future. Children also deserve better than mere words of support.

Building on the Foundation of FMLA: How Paid and Medical Family Leave Would Help Children Nationwide

| February 5, 2018 |

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), landmark legislation which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave to employees without the fear of losing their employment.

While FMLA provides critical job protection for millions of workers in the U.S., only about 60 percent of the nation’s workforce is eligible for protection, and there are many more employees who cannot afford to take leave that is unpaid.

The lack of access to paid family and medical leave for millions of workers, particularly low-income workers, presents them with an impossible choice: stay at work, away from family members in need and no time to heal from childbirth, or lose that necessary income to care for and bond with their newborn or look after a sick family member.

This has serious implications for children’s healthy development and well-being. For example, mothers who are able to take leave are available to breastfeed, and parents can also more easily take newborns to the doctor for important check-ups and immunizations. Studies have also found that access to maternity leave substantially decreases infant mortality in certain populations, as well as results in higher birth weight and reduces the likelihood of premature birth. Families with children with special health care needs that accessed paid medical leave reported that this leave not only benefited the health of their children, but also their own emotional and financial outcomes.

Paid family and medical leave also promotes families’ financial security and thereby reducing child poverty. The birth of a child often results in large medical bills for families, and the income earned during paid leave can be used to cover these medical expenses and prevent a family from falling behind on other bills such as rent and utilities. According to the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, new mothers who take paid leave are over 50 percent more likely to receive a future pay increase. Mothers who do not take paid leave are 39 percent more likely to need public assistance to care for their family than those who take paid maternity leave.

It is important to note that there are also several reasons for ensuring that earned family leave is available to fathers as well as mothers, such as reduced child care costs, reduced gender wage gaps and positive impacts on child development.

While there are paid family and medical leave insurance programs that have been successfully administered in some states (including California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island), the U.S. still lacks a national paid leave program that would reach the millions of workers who lack access to paid leave or are currently ineligible for any leave.

The recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act included a two-year pilot program for a paid leave tax credit for businesses that offered paid leave to full-time employees who earn less than $72,000 a year.

Employers must pay a minimum of 50 percent of wages to workers, but would receive a larger tax credit (capped at 25 percent) if they offered higher wage replacement. While this is a step, this modest tax credit is unlikely to incentivize many businesses that are not already offering paid leave and therefore will result in mostly benefiting higher-income workers.

To ensure that all workers have access to family and medical leave, we need a truly universal program.

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act of 2017 (H.R. 497/S. 337), led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), would create a program that combines employer and employee payroll contributions to create a shared fund for paid family and medical leave for all employers of all sizes. Workers in all companies would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of partial income for family and medical leave, including pregnancy, childbirth recovery, serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner, birth or adoption of a child and/or military caregiving and leave. Workers could earn 66 percent of their monthly wages, up to a capped amount.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the FAMILY Act could reduce by 81 percent the number of the nation’s families facing economic insecurity when they need time to care.

Child poverty in the U.S. remains stubbornly high, and children in the U.S. continue to experience worse health outcomes than children in other industrialized nations. On this 25th anniversary of FMLA, it is now more critical than ever for all families to have access to paid leave. By making earned family and medical leave available to all workers, parents are given the flexibility needed to balance their obligations at home and at work, thereby promoting not only family financial security and child poverty reduction, but improved child health outcomes.

For additional information, be on the lookout for additional analysis and resources from First Focus Campaign for Children and our partners at the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group

Why is Medicaid So Critical? Let’s Get Personal.

| January 30, 2018 |

Beginning in 2017, there has been an unprecedented assault on Medicaid, the health care program for the most vulnerable Americans, including low-income children and families, children and adults with disabilities, pregnant women, children in the foster care system, and senior citizens.

As funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other critical health programs hung in the balance last year, the GOP-controlled Congress spent the majority of the legislative calendar debating a proposed budget, measures to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and multiple other legislative proposals, all of which would have altered eligibility and drastically cut funding for Medicaid, some by more than $800 billion.

A federal-state partnership over which states have considerable discretion, Medicaid can be altered in numerous ways: through federal and state legislative proposals; regulatory changes; and state Medicaid waiver proposals such as recent requests, and the Trump Administration’s guidance, to include work requirements as a condition of eligibility for Medicaid. These changes would fundamentally decrease coverage and access to care by vulnerable people.

One positive change driven by the current political environment is the elevation of powerful testimonies of those who experience Medicaid firsthand – parents of children, and the children themselves – who need the health care program due to income, disabilities or special health care needs.

They have rightfully gained a potent voice in Washington with a message that hits home in a way few others can. They also illustrate the many essential ways in which Medicaid is a lifeline for vulnerable children and families. As just one example, Medicaid can also be a secondary payer for children with disabilities or other special health care needs, through Medicaid waivers such as the “Katie Beckett” waiver, created in 1981 by the Reagan Administration.

Just how important is that lifeline? I recently spoke with Anna Kruk Corbin, mother of Henry and Jackson, to find out. Both her children have complex medical needs and are covered by Medicaid. In addition to speaking out individually, Anna advocates with the Little Lobbyists and the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

AC: Both Jackson (age 12) and Henry (age 9) are seriously affected by Noonan Syndrome, a disorder that has many symptoms, including short stature, heart defects, bleeding disorders, lowered immunity, and other problems. As is very common in people with Noonan Syndrome, both boys also have Von Willebrand Disease, a bleeding disorder that creates problems with blood clotting.

MM: What does this mean for everyday life for the boys, and for you and your husband (Michael Corbin) as parents?

AC: The boys bruise easily and they bleed easily. Bleeding cause serious problems, as do minor “bumps,” that might mean nothing for another child.

A bump on the head for Henry or Jackson means a trip to the emergency room to check for intracranial bleeds. Everyday sickness can become extremely dangerous.

At nineteen months, Henry suffered a gastrointestinal bleed that required surgery. Since that time, he has had gastroparesis and can’t digest food the way he is supposed to. Vomiting is a daily occurrence; he sometimes vomits in his sleep.

MM: What about school?

AC: I now homeschool the boys. We tried school for a few years, but you can’t keep a child in school if they are vomiting every day. The school calls you to pick them up.

The cold and flu season used to be horrible. If someone had something at school, they caught it. We need to keep them somewhat “quarantined” during this time of year.

I sometimes call them “my little ticking time bombs.” We’ve learned to look for warning signs. You never know when something is going to be a problem that has never been a problem before.

MM: How does their health care coverage work?

AC: My husband makes a decent living, and we never considered Medicaid, never thought the boys would qualify. When they were diagnosed, the doctors sent us to Johns Hopkins (Baltimore) for treatment. The doctors’ visits, treatments, hospitalizations – just the medications alone (upwards of $2,400 a month) – were so expensive, and we had enormous debt. We were approaching bankruptcy. Then, in 2012, someone told us about the Katie Beckett Medicaid waiver in PA. We hadn’t known about it. We applied and in 3 weeks the kids were covered. We could not believe it.

Our private plan is billed first, and Medicaid is the secondary coverage. There are so many things our private plan does not cover or does not fully reimburse. My husband’s income could double – and we’d still need Medicaid. With medical bills approaching thousands of dollars a month, we would not be able to manage. I don’t see how any family could.

Without Medicaid, we would surely have lost our home.

MM: Did you ever think about working for additional income?

AC: My husband and I talked about many ways we could afford our sons’ care. We looked at the possibility of me working, but the boys need me during the day for schooling and for care, so it would have to be nights. It would simply be impossible for me to work nights and care for them during the day or to afford childcare from someone who had the medical skills to care for them.

Beginning in January 2017, Corbin began advocating for Medicaid as attacks upon the health care program accelerated in Congress.

MM: What is it like as a mother advocating for Medicaid in PA and on Capitol Hill?

AC: One thing that has surprised me is how much stigma there is. People don’t want to go on Medicaid and if they do have to apply, they don’t want other people to know. It is if they are doing something “wrong.” One man told me, ‘I’m sorry to hear what’s going on with your children, but I don’t believe in government assistance.’ It turned out his child was covered by the PA Katie Beckett waiver, too, and he didn’t know it was Medicaid. He thought it was just a state “insurance” program.

Wanting to take care of your children is not something that anyone should ever be ashamed of doing.

Sharing our story is the only way people are going to understand this. Some people talk about Medicaid as a “handout” instead of what it really is. I love it when people ask me questions, I welcome them. I’m so happy to educate people so they don’t make assumptions and spread stigma about Medicaid.

I also know what it’s like to be on private insurance alone, and to have Medicaid coverage. We would not have survived financially without Medicaid.

MM: With all you have had to learn about Medicaid and waivers, what do you think about state proposals such as work requirements and other Medicaid waivers?

AC: My children are covered by a Medicaid waiver, so I absolutely see anything being proposed as a potential threat. First of all, if one of my boys could not work as an adult, I’m not sure if his condition would be recognized as an exception to any work requirement. My children having access to affordable health care is crucial to their survival. Nothing can stand in the way of that.

Another concern in terms of the work requirements is, what’s the next step? Right now they are attacking ‘able-bodied adults.’ Who’s next? The kids on CHIP? The kids on [Medicaid] waivers? Then the elderly? Once they start, I’m afraid it will be a domino effect. Where will it end?

As Corbin has continued to advocate for Medicaid, she has had many opportunities to educate diverse groups of advocates, experts, state and federal legislators, and government administrators.

Last November, she was invited to represent PA at the annual National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) Conference in Washington, D.C. After speaking on a plenary panel of consumers, she fielded multiple comments from state Medicaid directors who were visibly moved by her family’s experience. She notes that several came up to her, some in tears, saying “we had no idea what families are going through.” She says their feedback was so positive and the simple fact was they just didn’t know what families were experiencing.

This year, Senator Bob Casey invited her to be his guest at the State of the Union address on January 30, 2018, showing his commitment to Medicaid and the critical need it serves for vulnerable children and families.

MM: How do you think your family’s experience, and your advocacy, has changed you as a mother and as a person?

AC: My husband and I have talked about this many times. We honestly don’t know what kind of parents we would have been if we hadn’t had children with complex medical needs. We don’t think it makes us “better” parents, but maybe it has made us appreciate things more.

All parents mark milestones for their children and we are no different. But our milestones are different in some cases. And maybe our appreciation for them is a lot greater, because we’ve learned to appreciate very single tiny moment that, for us, is a big moment.

Just this week, we were out to dinner and Jackson ordered from the adult menu for the very first time. He is 12 years old and wanted to have shrimp, and he did. This was the kid who at one time was considered to be a “failure to thrive” baby. This was one of our big moments.

A few years ago, I was standing in line at the post office with both kids, and a woman behind me said, as many people often say to young parents, ‘enjoy every moment.’ I turned around to her, smiled, and said, “I do.”

Work Requirements for Medicaid: Bad for Kids

| January 24, 2018 |

Tying “work requirements” to Medicaid eligibility, a dramatic and ideological departure from Medicaid policy, has now been requested by 11 states (AZ, AR, IN, KS, KY, ME, MS, NH, NC, UT, and WI), approved in Kentucky, and allowed and encouraged by the Trump Administration in a guidance letter to state Medicaid directors, issued January 11, 2018. As we conduct ongoing analyses of these new Medicaid coverage barriers, there are two equally important and fundamental issues to keep in mind.

First, Medicaid is health care and health insurance for vulnerable people who cannot otherwise access or afford it. It was created in 1965, along with Medicare (health care for people aged 65 and older) and provides critical care to low-income children and families and senior citizens, children and adults with disabilities, and pregnant women.

Medicaid is not cash assistance. It is health care.

Second, making eligibility for Medicaid health care contingent upon “working” (and what constitutes “work” is defined differently by different states) is bad for kids and bad public policy. While it is nearly impossible to cite a public policy that does not affect children in one way or another, this one is particularly egregious.

At a fundamental level, anything that affects health care for parents or caregivers affects their children. Facts show children of parents with health care coverage are more likely to have health care, and preventive health care, themselves. But there are many negative indicators for children in the fine print and implementation of work requirements in Medicaid waivers.

These waivers—departures from federal requirements for Medicaid eligibility, subject to approval by the Secretary of Health and Human Services—will make it harder for already-at-risk parents and families, as well as other vulnerable individuals, to access health care. It is that simple and that bad.

Two of the states applying for work requirements – Kansas and Mississippi – have two of the lowest Medicaid income thresholds in the country, meaning that one must be very poor in these states to even qualify for Medicaid, and now these families and children would face even greater obstacles in obtaining necessary health care.

In Kansas, a person must be below 38% of the federal poverty level ($7,759 for a family of three) and in Mississippi, below 27% of the federal poverty level ($5,540 for family of three) to qualify for Medicaid.

Moreover, work requirements are a solution looking for a problem. Research shows that nearly 8 in 10 Medicaid adults live in working families, and those who are not working are unable to do so because they have a disability or chronic illness, are caring for a family member, are in school, or are retired. Adding in work requirements, and the bureaucratic red tape this unleashes, creates untold stress, documentation nightmares, and the likelihood of information logjams and chaos for already stressed and distressed families. What does this all mean? Parents and children get dropped from Medicaid. Sometimes they don’t even know it until they show up for a doctor’s appointment. Even some people who are working may not meet the administrative requirements for proving they are working and would be disenrolled.

Another penalty of some state applications (including KY) is a “lock out” period (a period of months, determined by the state), meaning families are “locked out” of coverage for a specific period of time as a penalty for failing to meet work rules or other administrative hurdles. This “failure” could be caused by an error at the state bureaucracy level, a misplaced note from a doctor, the inability to meet the definition of “disability” in the waiver, or any number of other factors that do not reflect a person’s actual eligibility for Medicaid. No matter, by the time this gets figured out (if indeed it does get figured out), health care has been lost.

Imagine what a “lock out” period of 3, 6, or 9 months, or a complete disenrollment from Medicaid, would do to the children of a parent who is receiving treatment for cancer, bipolar disorder, or substance addiction, among any number of other conditions.

On paper, particularly vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities may seem protected from these work requirements. But being “exempt” and being protected from harm by innumerable and complex implications, individual state interpretations, and consequences of this ideological policy shift are two drastically different things.

It’s still very early for determining all possible harm, but an examination of the Administration’s guidance and state applications shows that multiple groups of vulnerable children are at risk due to the consequences and lack of clear directives to the states. As noted by Sara Rosenbaum and Vikki Wachino, “The Guidance is therefore not only a major departure from past HHS [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] policy and legal interpretation – it is a broad invitation to states to set the boundaries of this unprecedented new policy themselves.” With that in mind, the following is a partial list of vulnerable children who are subject to real harm from Medicaid work requirements:

  • Children with disabilities who need their parents or caregivers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Children whose parents do not have access to affordable child care or other work supports such as transportation
  • Children in the child welfare system
  • Children who are aging out of foster care
  • Children whose parents have, or are recovering from, an addiction to opioids or other substance
  • Children whose parents have behavioral health disorders.

Here is what work requirements for Medicaid do accomplish – reduction of Medicaid coverage.

Kentucky state officials estimate that 95,000 people will lose Medicaid coverage. These savings will then be exponentially decimated when people are forced to go the emergency room for care that is far more expensive, often for conditions that could have been prevented or at least ameliorated by routine health care. We already did this whole analysis, and quite extensively, when we passed the Affordable Care Act; it is beyond established that health care and coverage leads to better outcomes and is less expensive overall – for parents and children.

Which brings us to the question: why is anyone doing this? The stated rationale by the Administration is that work will lead to greater health and independence. This reasoning is completely backwards, upside down, eschewed, and perhaps illegal. As one analyst mentioned, it is like saying rain produces clouds. But in fact – it is clouds that produce rain. Even in our fake news-pounded brains, we know this is true.

There is ample evidence showing the causative effect of health care allowing people to take care of conditions or illnesses that may keep them from being able to work, but not in the other direction from work to better health (see also here and here). As far as work leading to greater independence or self-sustainability, and thus being in accordance with “principles” of the Medicaid program, the Administration claims that “historic” CMS principles “emphasize work to promote health and well-being.” But these historic principles, as noted by Rosenbaum and Wachino, “are found in voluntary work supports for adults with disabilities who desire to work without risking loss of benefits, not compulsory work programs.”

Far from an improvement, work requirements are a threat to public health.

Regarding “independence and self sufficiency,” we’ve also had more than 2 decades of experimentation and evaluation of work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and studies have clearly shown that work requirements did little to nothing to lift people out of poverty or increase work opportunities for low income adults.

The legality of work requirements for Medicaid is now front and center. Section 1115 Medicaid waivers are intended to be experimental “demonstration” projects to test ways to improve access to care, not endanger it, or depart from Medicaid’s core objectives. Today, fifteen Kentuckians, represented by the National Health Law Center (NHeLP), the Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), filed a class action lawsuit against the Trump Administration in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit charges that Kentucky’s recently approved Medicaid waivers, including provisions tying work requirements to eligibility, violate the Secretary of HHS’ authority under the Social Security Act (statutory authority for Medicaid) and are not consistent with the objectives of Medicaid. As stated by NHeLP Legal Director Jane Perkins, “This amounts to a project demonstrating how to destroy a strong health care program.” Additional lawsuits are expected as other states’ waivers are approved.

Work requirements for Medicaid is public policy that would, regardless of what it is called or how it is marketed, result in vulnerable children and families losing health care. It takes one ideological theory of connecting vulnerable people to work and makes it a condition of eligibility for the comprehensive health care program established for and guaranteed to those same vulnerable people. It flies in the face of research, evidence, common sense, and perhaps even the law. This policy is bad for kids.


Congress Must Now End the “CHIP Cliff”

| January 23, 2018 |

Congressional passage of the latest Continuing Resolution (CR) includes a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is a huge and welcome relief for the nine million children and families that rely upon CHIP for their health coverage.

This ends the chaos and increasing concern that was created by Congress’s failure to extend funding for CHIP that had expired 114 days previously. CHIP’s funding expiration had caused states all across the country to increasingly run out of money and caused a number of them to began sending out disenrollment notices to families.

As Myra Gregory, a mother whose 11-year-old son Roland relies on CHIP to treat her son’s cancer, wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch back on November 2, 2017:

I understand that our society is divided right now. I understand that Republicans and Democrats can have honest differences of opinion. What I cannot understand is how the U.S. Congress could make the health security of kids like Roland a guessing game, and their lives bargaining chips. Watching my baby fight for his life this past year has been agonizing. I’ve held him in my arms while he cries in pain, I’ve experienced anxiety and stress I thought I would never overcome, and I have had to have conversations with Roland’s younger brothers that no child should have to have. I have always known that our situation could get worse, but I never imagined that Congress would be an obstacle in my son’s battle with cancer.

The crisis in CHIP’s expiration has been a disaster for children and families. Fortunately, yesterday’s CR puts a short-term end to this crisis with a six-year extension of funding.

Unfortunately, our work on CHIP is not done. The reason we have more work to do is that the CR includes a potentially program-ending “CHIP funding cliff” in 2024.

As the following chart highlights, the CR included language that causes funding for CHIP to drop from $25.9 billion in 2023 to just $5.7 billion in 2024 — an astounding 78 percent cut.

Just as Congress failed to extend CHIP more than three months ago over the need to reach an agreement on $8 billion in funding offsets, it is hard to imagine how CHIP will be successfully reauthorized in 2023 if the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate that an extension of the program due to the “CHIP cliff” in 2024 and beyond will be even more costly.

Although the CR has provided CHIP with some important short-term relief, there remains enormous uncertainty over CHIP’s long-term stability. In fact, due to the CR’s inclusion of a “CHIP cliff,” it is increasingly likely that CHIP will be underfunded in 2024 and beyond.

In light of this year’s failure to extend CHIP in a timely manner, Congress should take action to ensure that the health coverage for nine million children and pregnant women is never threatened like this again.

The biggest cause for future uncertainty with CHIP’s financing is due to the fact that the CBO and JCT score for the program is influenced immensely by the costs associated with coverage in Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces. Due to the “CHIP cliff,” the CBO and JCT score on a future extension of CHIP could be as high as $20 billion per year or much less if, as CBO explains, “the federal costs of the alternatives to providing coverage through CHIP (primarily Medicaid, subsidized coverage in the marketplaces, and employment-based insurance) are larger than the costs of providing coverage through CHIP during that period.”

In other words, any actions that Congress and President Trump takes to increase or reduce the costs of either Medicaid or the ACA during the intervening six years will have an enormous impact on whether we will be able to successfully extend CHIP in 2024 and beyond.

Repeal of the individual mandate for health coverage in the recently tax bill, in fact, was scored by CBO and JCT to substantially increase the cost of coverage in the ACA marketplaces and made CHIP relatively cheaper. Future legislative actions by Congress or administrative changes by the Trump Administration or a future president could have the opposite effect. For example, if Congress had passed the House “repeal and replace” bill or Graham-Cassidy in 2017, it is likely that a CHIP extension would have been scored by CBO and JCT to cost tens of billions more.

This is untenable. CHIP is the only federal health coverage program that is subjected to temporary extensions and enormous funding cliffs. It is unimaginable that Congress would purposely legislate a 78 percent funding cliff in the future of either Medicare or its own health coverage like it just did to CHIP. This must end.

CHIP is not some sort of temporary demonstration or waiver program. Since its inception more than 20 years ago, CHIP has successfully cut the uninsured rate for children by two-thirds. Why would we put the future of this bipartisan successful program at risk and dependent on a future CBO and JCT score that likely has more to do with the costs of Medicaid and ACA marketplaces than CHIP? Unfortunately, for all we know, yesterday’s CR and the inclusion of the “CHIP cliff” could make an extension of CHIP virtually impossible in the future.

There is no legitimate counter argument for why Congress should continue to subject CHIP to temporary and uncertain extensions. One argument that some have attempted to make is that Congress wants to continue to have the opportunity to make changes to CHIP. However, even if CHIP were made permanent or extended for 10 years, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee would still have legislative and oversight authority over it.

For instance, at its inception, Congress authorized CHIP for a full 10 years and that did not preclude Congress from making numerous changes to the program. In fact, between 1997 and CHIP’s reauthorization date in 2017, Congress made numerous changes to CHIP in 18 separate laws.

Congress has an obvious solution to fix the “CHIP cliff” that is staring it squarely in the face. According to a cost estimate by CBO and JCT issued on January 11, 2018, “The agencies estimate that enacting [a 10-year extension of CHIP] would decrease the deficit by $6.0 billion over the 2018- 2027 period.”

In other words, by simply extending CHIP for 10 years, Congress could simultaneously: (1) eliminate the “CHIP cliff”; (2) reduce the federal deficit by $6 billion; and, (3) provide CHIP with a far more stable, secure, and long-term extension.

Kelly Whitener at Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families explains:

. . .this new score — 10 years of CHIP saving $6 billion — presents an opportunity that should not be missed. Congress now has the chance to provide children, their families, and states with stable coverage while saving the government money. This is a rare win-win situation.

Given the win-win situation here, I was surprised to see that the proposal for the next continuing resolution would fund CHIP for just 6 years. Why 6 years? Why give up the opportunity to stabilize children’s coverage and continue to make progress covering more and more children? We know that having coverage as a child leads to healthier, more productive teenage and adult years, and we know that CHIP has helped reduce the number of uninsured children to historic lows.

In coming weeks, there are a series of “health care extenders” that desperately need funding offsets in order to be extended. Fortunately, a permanent or 10-year CHIP extension could create billions of dollars in federal budget savings that could be used to help provide necessary funding to extend the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, Community Health Centers, or the Parent to Parent Initiative, which all expired 115 days ago and are important to children.

Congress could also use the billions of dollars in savings from a long-term CHIP extension to help resolve the FY 2018 budget impasse between Congress and President Trump that has necessitated the use of repeated CRs as “stopgap” measures to keep the federal government operating. Resolving the federal budget crisis is also important to children, as the CR only extends funding for the government until February 8, 2018. Both Congress and President Trump must do better than funding and operating the government three weeks at a time.

As my colleague Rachel Merker explains, the recent series of CRs that keep the government functioning on a short-term basis actually result in a “cut for many already underfunded children’s programs” because the CRs do not adjust for either inflation or need, they leave agencies overseeing children’s programs unable to plan for the future, and they facilitate the use of children’s programs, such as CHIP, to be used as “bargaining chips” in the spending negotiations. This must end.

Merker concludes:

If Congress is serious about investing in kids, it will stop relying on stopgap measures and start focusing on good faith efforts to fully fund the government on time, and with robust support to programs supporting families and kids.

Finally and sadly, the CR also failed to complete a deal to protect DREAMers from the threat of deportation caused by President Trump’s order to end protections provided to the estimated 800,000 DREAMers in March under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program put in place by President Obama in 2012.

DACA recipients and their families, including 200,000 U.S. citizen children, are facing a great deal of uncertainty and fear, heightened by each passing day that a deal is not made. Congress much address DACA as soon as possible to end the needless trauma and fear that has been inflicted upon these young people who know only the United States as their home.

Congress and President Trump have a great deal of work to do to address the needs of the American people and our children, which includes: (1) enacting a permanent or 10-year extension of CHIP; (2) funding the health extenders; (3) reaching a budget deal for the current fiscal year; and, (4) protecting the lives of DREAMers.

Rather than arguing about who is winning the debate over the recent government shutdown, Congress and President Trump should spend that time actually talking to each other and negotiating to complete the people’s business. It is not hyperbole to say that lives are still hanging in the balance.

Relief for Families: After More Than 110 Days, Congress Extends CHIP

| January 23, 2018 |

On Monday, January 22, 2018, Congress passed and President Trump signed an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that is set to last six years. This brings relief to millions of families across the country. Other than its first 10-year authorization, this is the longest amount of time parents will be able to count on CHIP being there for their kids.

This six-year extension of CHIP passed in the short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) spending bill. CHIP funding expired on September 30, 2017, more than 110 days earlier – parents, kids, and pregnant women have been worried ever since. We are pleased to know that their anxiety and fears about losing critical health coverage have ended.

On December 19, 2017, the First Focus Campaign for Children brought eight families, 10 parents and 15 children, to Washington, DC, for a congressional briefing about CHIP. They came from seven different states: Colorado, Kentucky, New York, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The kids’ ages ranged from under-two-years-old to 18. They came in from big cities, medium size cities, rural areas, and small towns. They traveled during the holiday season, with some of the kids missing a day or two of school, and facing blizzards on their return home. One young man, a high school student, stayed back in Texas to take finals while his mother made the journey to Washington. Although each family came from a different place geographically, with a different-sized family and medical history, they had one thing in common: their support for CHIP.

Christina and her sweet toddler daughter came from upstate New York and shared their experiences about heart surgeries, hospital stays, and ongoing health monitoring. Christina said that CHIP is not only a health benefit to their family, but provides financial relief from the high cost of co-pays and deductibles when a child needs extensive care.

Sonja, a mother from Utah, came with two of her children who both live with a chronic illness, leaving her other children back home with their father for a few days. She spoke about how CHIP covers the life-dependent treatment her children with Crohn’s disease need. Both children receive an immuno-suppressant infusion every eight weeks. Each treatment can cost up to $10,000. Without CHIP, she would be forced to give up her income, either to qualify for Medicaid to provide their treatments, or to pay more than her income for their health care costs.

As Sonja said, “This is not a situation that any American family should be in; we should not have to give up our incomes to keep our children alive.”

Jessica and Ryan, parents who traveled from northern Wisconsin, talked about how CHIP made sure their three kids not only got their well-child exams, but helped with supportive services like behavioral health and needed medicine.

Cailin McDonald, a 16-year-old girl from rural Kentucky told the Hill audience how CHIP and Medicaid have helped her family during times of need, and how the programs have made it possible for her parents to do the jobs they love.

De’Andrea came to DC for the first time from a small town in Texas to advocate for the coverage her teenage son needs to maintain his health and cover the cost of his prescriptions. Her words were full of gratefulness and hope for the future of CHIP.

These families along with three others expressed fear and worry about the delays in CHIP funding. They knew that their stories were essential to the debate and had hoped to see CHIP funding extended in the CR that passed on December 21. When that didn’t happen, we stayed in touch with them and referred reporters to them when news coverage intensified.

They told their stories again and again, hoping their words and pleas would make the difference to congress to fund CHIP quickly.

I checked in with the eight families Monday afternoon. “Yay!” and “What a relief!” were the most common responses I received when I told them about the CR.

As a mom from West Virginia, AmyJo, said yesterday, “The stress of not knowing what was going to happen, along with knowing there were 48,000 children in my state of West Virginia whose parents were under the same mental stress, was exhausting.”

The best part of Monday was knowing that these families and millions more like them don’t have to worry now. CHIP is funded for six years. Parents can count on their children’s enrollment in their state CHIP plan, or apply if they have been putting it off because they wondered about CHIP’s future. We encourage families to make any medical appointments they may have put off, to continue to pay their CHIP premiums, and to enroll if they think they have a child who might be eligible for CHIP.

It’s about time CHIP was funded, and finally, we and millions and millions of families feel relief.