As if our fight to stop the profoundly unjust Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was not enough, we must all work hard to ensure there will be no unfinished business as Congress works to wrap up the Continuing Resolution before December 22ndwith all the crucial help children and other vulnerable populations need. Entire groups of children and families’ well-being are at risk without action. The Continuing Resolution must include five years extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); home visiting support for infants and toddlers and other young children through the Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program; support for Dreamers and future Dreamers, young people who came here as children and face risk of deportation; and desperately needed help for hurricane victims in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. All are crucial for children and youths and have bipartisan support. These are not new needs or requests and Congress needs to act on them with urgency.
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): For 20 years CHIP has given working families the security of knowing their children had access to high-quality, child-appropriate affordable health coverage. CHIP has helped cut in half the number of uninsured children, improved child health outcomes and access to care, helped reduce school absenteeism and improved children’s readiness to learn. CHIP is a lifeline for 8.9 million children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private coverage. CHIP and Medicaid are the foundation of our health care system for children.
Although CHIP began with and continues to have bipartisan support, partisan politicking about how to pay for it keeps blocking the way. CHIP funding is 76 days overdue and a patchwork of temporary assistance will no longer work. Colorado and Virginia began sending letters to families this month warning that without renewed federal money, CHIP coverage would end in January. Texas and Connecticut plan similar notices this month. Although Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was one of the original sponsors of CHIP and is a continuing CHIP champion, Utah announced it will end CHIP in January if Congress does not find the money. West Virginia’s CHIP board voted to end it February 28 and 30 states will exhaust CHIP funds by March. How unbearable the fear parents feel must be as cancellation notices hit their mailboxes during the holidays.
Brooke, a Texas mother of three, is a church child care provider and her husband is a mechanic. She puts it this way: “Having health insurance through CHIP has meant that my kids are healthy, my family is more financially stable, and my husband and I don’t stay up nights worrying about how to pay our medical bills. My middle daughter was diagnosed six years ago with OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder] and anxiety. We’ve had years of treatment with therapists and doctors to teach her coping mechanisms and give her the medications she needed. She’s now healthy and happy, does so well in school and has improved so much. Without CHIP we never would’ve been able to afford the care she needed and she’d still be struggling . . . If CHIP gets cancelled I don’t know what we’ll do. It’s not like we have a spendy life – we’ve cut everything we can as it is. I’m not sure what we’d choose to go without to pay for our family’s medical needs.”
There will be millions of families like Brooke’s in Texas and nationally. Children will miss doctor appointments and go without medication. Pregnant women will lose prenatal care. Ongoing treatments will stop. Congress must immediately reauthorize CHIP for five years without making harmful cuts in other programs serving children and families to pay for it.
Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV): Pregnant women and children under five benefit from MIECHV in every state and territory. It has had bipartisan support since its 2010 enactment but its services and jobs will be lost if Congress doesn’t renew it immediately. MIECHV-funded programs use evidence-based voluntary home visiting models that must demonstrate measurable improvements on at least four of six benchmarks – improvements in maternal and newborn health, reductions in abuse and neglect and childhood injuries, improved school readiness and achievement, reduction in crime or domestic violence, improved family economic self-sufficiency and referral for other community resources and supports. Families in at risk urban and rural communities facing risk factors like substance abuse or child abuse and neglect are given priority for services. MIECHV must be reauthorized for five years at least at its current funding level of $400 million.
Dreamers and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program: Dreamers and future Dreamers are young undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children who have passed background checks, gone to school, met other requirements and contribute to their communities every day though work, studies and service. They enjoy strong bipartisan support and agreement that they should not be deported. Nearly 800,000 immigrants were granted protection from deportation under DACA, which President Trump has set to end in March. Beginning March 5th, 1,000 Dreamers will lose protection every day. Announcing DACA’s end, President Trump asked Congress to provide these Dreamers permanent legal status. These protections must be preserved.
Emergency Relief for Children, Families and Others Struggling from Hurricane Destruction: Children in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are still suffering from devastating hurricanes. Children’s health and education are at great risk, especially in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Many are struggling and surviving without electricity and water and many schools remain closed. Additional emergency funding is long overdue!
Rather than crucial help for children and youths, the Administration and Congress have been pushing for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and powerful corporations. In this holy season celebrating the birth of a poor baby in a manger, this is a travesty. In a season when Christians believe wise and powerful men gave their gifts to a poor baby on the first Christmas, we should all tell our leaders they should give our nation’s poor, sick, and most vulnerable children the things they urgently need to survive and thrive.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.