By Amanda Litvinov
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On Monday, lawmakers in Congress agreed to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years as part of a short-term deal to fund the government.
Lawmakers allowed funding for the program to expire at the end of September and Republican leaders did not act to renew it for more than three months. Although Congress released some unspent funds to keep the program running, some states came perilously close to suspending services for children covered by CHIP.
Across the country, parents, educators, physicians and other advocates for children’s health made calls, sent emails, and shared their stories about why the CHIP program is critical to more than 9 million children (as well as 370,000 pregnant women) whose families do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.
“Funding for CHIP is essential,” said Audrey Nichols, a bookkeeper at Landmark Elementary School in Little Rock, Arkansas. More than 80 percent of the students in her school are from low-income families and qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
“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.”
More than half of the 9 million children served by CHIP are eligible for services provided in their schools through state Medicaid programs.
Loranzo Andrews works with special needs students in grades 3 through 5, most of whom are from low-income families in Memphis, Tennessee.
“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,” said Andrews.
“CHIP is absolutely critical to the children here in Memphis, especially the special needs kids that I work with.”
Although parents and educators are breathing a sigh of relief knowing that CHIP is funded through 2023, the mood is not entirely celebratory.
This was the first time there was a significant funding lapse for CHIP, a program that has long had bipartisan support. Without the reauthorization, at least 10 states—Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Washington and the District of Columbia—were expected to run out of CHIP funding by the end of January 2018, according to the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
While CHIP is jointly funded by the federal government and the states, the federal government pays, on average, more than 80 percent of the cost.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal match is slated for reductions over the coming years. Educators, parents, and children’s health advocates must stay tuned for news on federal CHIP funding, and how the planned reductions will affect state budgets over the next few years.