Congress is trying to avert a shutdown by the end of this week — but, in the process, a popular program that gives millions of children health insurance is becoming a negotiating tactic.
Congress must come up with a solution to fund the government by Friday, or they will face a federal shutdown. On Tuesday, House Republican leadership released a continuing resolution that would keep the government funded for one month. Included in the deal is a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, a program that insures at least 8 million children whose parents have too much money for Medicaid, but don’t have adequate funding for private insurance. Federal funds for the program, which has bipartisan support, lapsed on September 30 amid disagreements on how to pay for it, with both sides of the aisle arguing their opponents were politicizing the issue.
Now, Republicans have proposed funding the program for six years as part of the resolution to keep the government open. But the measure it is attached to does not include a solution for the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), a program implemented under President Obama and revoked under President Trump, which offers work permits to young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors with their parents. Consequently, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to garner Democratic votes for the measure.
“An extension of CHIP and other health care programs could be passed today with strong bipartisan support if it was not attached to the continuing resolution. We have a chance to permanently extend CHIP and we should take it, without attaching it to controversial matters,” Rep. Frank Pallone, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which handles funding for the program, and who will not vote for the resolution, said in a statement.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday it was “unconscionable” that Democrats would vote against a measure that reauthorizes the program, and that they were playing “political games.” Republican congressional leadership did not respond to request for comment about whether the measure would be passed independently of the continuing resolution to fund the government.
But, for the thousands of families across the country dependent on the program, they are just confused about why it might not be renewed — and fearful of what would happen if it isn’t, a concern that has intensified as states send preemptive letters warning coverage could soon lapse. Although Congress approved $2.85 billion in December to fund the program through March 31, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said funds for the program would actually begin to dry up in some states starting January 19, although the center did not specify the exact states that would be impacted.
“It has all of the indicators that would prove it’s something that works for families; it’s useful it seems to cross the aisle and everyone could agree upon that, so I don’t understand what the environment is that this is now something to question,” Angelique Smith, a 39-year-old event coordinator in Colorado whose 5-year-old son Malachay is a beneficiary of the program, and who has received several letters warning the program could end in February, told TIME earlier this month. Without CHIP, she would pay an additional $300 a month for his insurance, no small feat when she is living paycheck to paycheck.
“We have things we’ve thought about doing in the next year and there are birthdays to come, vacations and things like that that we save up for and there may not be those additional savings this year,” said Smith.