Restore CHIP, or risk well-being of the next generation, says Arkansas educator

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By Amanda Litvinov

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It’s technically not part of Audrey Nichols’s job as bookkeeper at Landmark Elementary School in Little Rock, Ark., to help families enroll in programs like Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but she routinely does so by referring families to her daughter, who is a social worker with the Department of Human Services.

Nichols’s school once had a home liaison on staff who would have helped families that qualify enroll in Medicaid or CHIP. But that position disappeared several years ago due to budget cuts, even though the needs of the community have hardly diminished.

Over 80 percent of students at Landmark Elementary are from low-income families.

Nichols has helped to fill the gap that was left when the liaison position was cut. “I guess it’s because I’ve been here for over 20 years, so families just tend to gravitate toward me,” Nichols says.

But help for some of those families may soon vanish altogether, as Congress has not renewed funding for CHIP, which extends health coverage to children whose families do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.

Now, as many as 9 million students are at risk of losing health care.

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Some states will run out of CHIP funding as soon as December. North Carolina, Arizona, California, Minnesota, and Utah are the first states expected to exhaust their funds, along with the District of Columbia, according to the most recent estimates.

Arkansas, where Nichols lives and works, is among the states that will run out of CHIP funding between January and March 2018 (along with Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington).

Nichols is frustrated that lawmakers haven’t taken steps to preserve a program that has helped so many children and families, and that has long had bipartisan support.

“This funding could mean the difference in terms of whether a student will receive the speech therapy or physical therapy they need,” said Nichols. “It could mean the difference in terms of whether the school will have a nurse, or whether a child from a poor family will get a health screening that could prevent a health-related barrier to learning.”

More than half of the 9 million children served by CHIP are eligible for services provided in their schools through state Medicaid programs.

Prior to the beginning of each academic year, school districts commit to the necessary staff and contracted services—for example, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, occupational therapists, school nurses, and mental health professionals.

Although the details of each state’s CHIP program differ, the bottom line is that without the federal share of funding, many states will be unable to continue providing services at the same rate.

Nichols also has a personal story about school-based health services that she wishes she could share with members of Congress.

“My son has Down’s Syndrome. He’s now 30 years old, but through his school he had occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy,” Nichols said. “For a lawmaker to stand outside the world these kids live in and say, ‘This is an unnecessary service,’ is wrong.”

She seriously doubts that her son could have gained all of the verbal and physical skills he has were it not for the specialized therapies he received at school. And she knows that her son’s story is just one of millions.

“I wish some of these lawmakers could spend a day with these families and see what they are dealing with every day,” says Nichols. “It’s way bigger than dollars. It’s about lives and the well-being of the next generation.”

Reader Comments

  1. If there is an area of population is in need of these services then it should be paid for by the people in their area only. I want my money to be spent in my state, county and town. I trust my local representatives to spend my money wiser than the bureaucrats in Washington.

    1. People in the majority often discriminate against people unlike themselves. History shows us that when left to the Confederacy/state/county/town, many people in need are left out. History shows us that we need federal laws to help us “protect the general welfare,” as the US Constitution provides.

  2. The majority of our country is outraged that CHIP is being ignored. The wealthiest country in the world will sacrifice children for even MORE money for wealthy donors – Hey All you Family Values folks –

    — Jesus’ Currency and “Owning” the Problems of Poverty–
    “The currency of Jesus’ kingdom is different than ours. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice and His currency love. For Jesus, belief and actions are one and the same—you cannot have one without the other.

    The more I reflect on the problem of poverty—and what Jesus had to say about it—the more I realize that we own the problems of the impoverished as much as they do. Our inactions have created many of them. We—all of us—are at fault for the state of our world. But we can also join Jesus in changing the state of our world.

    If Jesus believed that belief is about action, why don’t we? Why have we not dedicated ourselves to bringing true discipleship and love to others, when it’s what Christ told us to do? What good is belief without it offering true hope?

    God has asked us to demonstrate our belief by bringing good news to those who feel hopeless. We are called to drop everything for Him—what is He calling you to drop for Him? This is Jesus’ view of the economy. He envisions what the world could look like and calls us to join God in the process of making that vision a reality. It’s about exchanging the currencies of this world for the currency of love.”
    FUND CHIP NOW!

  3. How low can the republicans go? They have time to mess with tax relief for the wealthy but no time to deal with funding for sick children.
    Outrageous.

  4. i find it hard to credit that this non-renewal might or has occurred. of you, the people involved in passing this or similar legislation, have you no constituents that this wouldn’t hurt. it is hard to believe that you are so blind.

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