The nearly three-week continuing resolution passed by Congress Monday to end a brief government shutdown includes a six-year funding package for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP covers 9 million children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who can’t afford insurance on the open market.
Normally that would be seen as good news. But advocates are still questioning why Congress took so long to fund a popular program, forcing some states to send notices to families that they were at risk of losing their coverage.
Joan Alker, the executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University, expressed that combination of relief and frustration earlier on Monday:
It looks like a 6 yr extension of CHIP may be done in hours. A huge relief, but it is unacceptable that it took so long. Families experienced needless anxiety for months and states wasted time and money making contingency plans due to the lack of a reliable federal partner.
— Joan Alker (@JoanAlker1) January 22, 2018
CHIP’s popularity may be one factor behind its predicament. The program, created in 1997, has always had support among Republicans and Democrats. CHIP has also cut the uninsured rate for children by more than half, from about 14 percent to 4.5 percent.
However, while Congress was debating the budget last year, government analyses suggested there was enough money in the budget for the program to last until the end of 2017, decreasing the urgency to act. The last stop-gap federal funding measure passed in December was supposed to hold states over until March, but some states said that funding would only be available through the end of January.
This spending deal doesn’t end the threat of another government shutdown; Congress faces yet another deadline to come up with a federal funding deal by Feb. 8. But the money for CHIP is locked in.