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House Votes to Cut Children’s Health Insurance Funding as Advocates Keep Watch

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 11, 2018 3 min read
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Last week, the House of Representatives voted to approve a package revoking about $7 billion in funding reserved for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The decision hasn’t gone over well in the children’s advocacy community. But what’s next for this controversial proposal?

First, some background: The House vote last week dealt with a $15 billion “rescissions” package proposed earlier this year by President Donald Trump. The Trump team is seeking to slash the government’s bottom line—even though Trump signed a big spending increase into law for fiscal 2018. Most of the cuts would come from unspent federal funds.

Nearly half of that rescissions package, part of a bill that the House passed 210-206, comes from CHIP, which provides health care to kids from low-income families. As we reported earlier this year, $5.1 billion of the rescission would come out of a part of CHIP that reimburses states for certain expenses. Roughly $2 billion would be cut from CHIP reserves, which help states deal with higher-than-expected enrollment in the program. The Trump team has argued this unspent money is no longer needed. The rescissions would not impact current payments to states.

But when the Republican-controlled House moved to approve the rescission package, including the CHIP cut, opponents of the Trump administration’s move re-upped their previous criticisms of the proposal.

After House passage of the rescissions bill, Child Health USA, an initiative started by the child advocacy group First Focus, published a series of tweets blasting the vote:

And right before the vote, Bruce Lesley, the president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy organization, argued to lawmakers that the proposal “undermines the very reason for the fund, which is to protect the health coverage of children against unanticipated or unforeseen circumstances, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or even Hawaii’s currently unanticipated erupting volcano.”

Federal lawmakers let authorization for CHIP expire last year, and it was in limbo for some time before Congress approved a six-year reauthorization of the law in January. In May, after Trump released his rescissions package, a coalition of groups opposed to the move referenced lawmakers inaction concerning CHIP in a letter to Congress: “The nine million children and families who depend on CHIP have already faced months of uncertainty, when its funding expired before Congress took long-overdue action to extend CHIP funding for ten years. After breathing a short sigh of relief, however, the long-term stability and protection these families fought to ensure is once again in jeopardy.”

Groups signing onto the letter include AASA, the School Superintendents Association, and the National Education Association.

However, Senate approval of these rescissions could be tough. Even though the move would require only 51 votes and not a filibuster-proof 60 votes, it’s not clear that moderate Republican senators in particular want to support Trump’s spending cuts after months of difficult work crafting a fiscal 2018 spending agreement. The Senate also has a deadline for voting on the package—Congress has 45 days of continuous session to pass or reject the legislation. Joan Alker, the executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, highlighted the environment for CHIP in the Senate last week.

It remains to be seen if the Trump administration’s push to cut CHIP reserves impacts lawmakers’ funding decisions about the program for fiscal 2019, which is due to start Oct. 1.

Image: Getty Images

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