Children’s Defense Fund-Texas Testimony — Texas Health and Human Services Commission Legislative Appropriations Request

To:  Legislative Budget Board

Date:  September 29, 2022

From:  Children’s Defense Fund-Texas

Re:  Texas Health and Human Services Commission Legislative Appropriations Request

I appreciate the opportunity to share comments on the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) Legislative Appropriations Request on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas.. We envision a Texas where all children have an equal chance to thrive, regardless of their race, income, or immigration status. Our staff includes both policy experts  and outreach and enrollment teams in the Rio Grande Valley and East Texas who serve as Level-III Community Health Partners.

We are pleased to see that the Texas Health and Human Services Agency included Action Item 2.1.1  to expand its Community Partner Program from its current 187 counties to all 254 counties in its Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2023 to 2027. This action item reflects HHS’s goal to reach all eligible but not yet enrolled, often difficult-to-reach, children and families across the state.  We enthusiastically share this goal. However, to make this shared goal of enrolling eligible but not yet enrolled children and families into Medicaid and CHIP a reality, funding for outreach and enrollment assistance—including outreach performed by Community Partner organizations—must be robustly restored in the agency’s budget.

As it stands now, the Community Partner organizations that partner with HHS and perform vital in-community, outreach and enrollment assistance do not receive any funding from the state for their critical on-the-ground efforts. Understandably, lack of funding severely limits community partners’ ability to hire staff and fund the computers and other technologies needed to conduct strategic outreach and offer application assistance, especially where access is limited in remote parts of the state. The Community Partner Program carries on without funding for partners because both agency and community partners across the state recognize how important collaboration is to connecting eligible children and families to health coverage; yet, if Texas is going to move the needle on reducing its uninsurance rate– the highest in the nation– the state must fund dedicated community partner’s work so that their reach and impact can be far deeper than its current unfunded level.

Especially in light of HHS workforce challenges and the anticipated unwinding of the Public Health Emergency, it is worth noting that such Community Partners outreach and enrollment assistance work relieves burdens on both state eligibility workers and the 2-1-1 option 2 call center. Recognizing it is a challenging time nationwide to hire adequate eligibility and 2-1-1 call center workers, we would like to underscore the increased relief that Community Partners would be positioned to offer if they were funded at the level they were over a decade ago.

With funding robustly revitalized, community partners would also have the deepened capacity necessary to foster a wide variety of partnerships, including those with schools, child care centers, faith-based organizations, and businesses that do not traditionally offer health insurance but provide access to low-income families who could benefit from public assistance programs.

Thank you for your time. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.