By Amanda Litvinov
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Frustration is growing among educators and parents because Congress has not renewed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), putting 9 million children across the United States at risk of losing health coverage.
CHIP covers children in families who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private coverage. Funding for the program expired on September 30.
“For children across our nation, having access to quality, affordable health care is tantamount to their success in school, and our success as a country,” said Lily Eskelsen García, a Utah educator and president of the National Education Association.
“Congress needs to come together quickly, as they have many times before, to reauthorize the CHIP program. Ensuring that our children have health insurance is something on which Democrats and Republicans should agree,” García said.
Some states are expected to 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.
Twenty-six states will use up their CHIP money between January and March 2018. They are: Arkansas, 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.
More than half of the 9 million children served by CHIP are eligible for services provided in their schools through state Medicaid programs.
Here are just a few of the stories that educators have shared about how the students they work with will be affected as CHIP funding dries up.
Karen Slade, teacher’s assistant, Exceptional Children Division, Southern Alamance High School, Graham, North Carolina
“Our students all have different challenges. Some receive speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. For some students, school is the only place that they’re going to see the specialists we provide. These specialists evaluate our students and start them on exercises and routines that the staff continues until their next visit.
We can’t deny our students the right to the best possible education that we can provide, and for some that means helping them meet health-related challenges. We must do everything we can to help these kids gain the life skills they’re going to need.
I’ve been doing this work for almost 20 years, and I can tell you that it is also about supporting families who are struggling to help kids with high needs. We must help them. Parents can’t always afford or deal with all of this on their own. It would be shameful to take away any resources that help these children and their families.”
Audrey Nichols, bookkeeper, Landmark Elementary School, Little Rock, Arkansas
“I’m a bookkeeper, but I also wear other hats. I work with families and students on financial issues. But since we don’t have home liaisons anymore, I also help families out when they need services. I’ve been here for 21 years, so families often sort of gravitate to me.
My daughter works for DHS (Dept. of Human Services) as a social worker, so she is a link to information and help, including enrolling students in Medicaid or CHIP. I also just do things to help individual students. More than 80% of our students qualify for free and reduced price lunch. If their shoes are torn up, I will go and purchase a new pair for them. I have breakfast bars and cereal and all manner of things stockpiled to feed kids who come to school hungry if they can’t get to the cafeteria.
Funding for CHIP and for Medicaid is essential. It’s about so much more than dollars, it’s about people’s lives. This funding could mean the difference in terms of whether a student will receive the speech therapy or physical therapy they need. 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.
I wish some of these lawmakers could spend a day with these families and see what they are dealing with every day. It’s way bigger than dollars. It’s about lives and the well-being of the next generation.”
Loranzo Andrews, paraprofessional/special needs, A.B. Hill Elementary, Memphis, Tennessee
“I help students in grades 3-5 with a variety of different needs acquire functional skills. We work on handwriting, identifying colors, being able to read sight words, spell their names, and tie their shoes. We teach them rules that will help keep them safe. We also teach them to open up and interact with others, and even take them on field trips to places like the grocery store or the library.
We are in a low-income area, so these kids have a lot of other burdens to bear as well. These families need us to do everything we possibly can to help prepare their kids for the future. We need to have nurses in our schools, and we need to have all the specialists come in to provide services.
The rate of childhood diabetes is high here. And so many families cannot afford health coverage on their own. CHIP is absolutely critical to the children here in Memphis, especially the special needs kids that I work with.
How can we let them down by taking away services we’re providing now?”