EDITORIAL: Congress, it's past time to fund CHIP
Families of nearly 180,000 children in Pennsylvania have an extra worry this holiday season.
They are waiting for a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services telling them that the state has no funding left for CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Pennsylvania's CHIP celebrated its 25th anniversary on Dec. 7, and the General Assembly reauthorized the program on Monday, Dec. 12, in a move praised by Gov. Tom Wolf.
But state reauthorization does little good as long as Congress refuses to release federal funds. Congress let the program's authorization expire on Sept. 30.
CHIP provides free or low-cost health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but don't have access to health insurance through other means.
In Pennsylvania, a family of four with an income of up to $51,168 can receive free CHIP insurance for their children, while a family of four with an income of up to $77,244 qualifies for low-cost CHIP insurance, according to the state Department of Human Services.
The program ensures that children get regular checkups, receive the proper vaccines and can see a doctor if they're sick.
CHIP received $16.6 billion in the 2017 federal budget, according to NBC News, and it serves more than 8 million children across the country. In Pennsylvania, federal funding covers about 90 percent of the $450 million cost, according to Wolf's office.
The federal program has had broad public and bipartisan support since it was begun in 1997.
So why hasn't Congress renewed CHIP?
It, of course, comes down to money and politics.
Discussions about funding seem to center on whether funds for CHIP should be taken out of other areas in the budget and whether funding should be allocated for several years or one year at a time.
There's also a question of whether to give the program $14 billion or $12 billion for 2018.
Meanwhile, several states, including Pennsylvania, are on the verge of running out of funding for this vital program.
The stop-gap spending bill signed by President Donald Trump on Friday, Dec. 9, lets the federal government distribute the remaining funds in the CHIP account to the states in the most dire straits, including Pennsylvania, but it doesn't authorize any more funding.
And yet the Republicans in the House and the Senate seem to be perfectly fine with passing a tax bill that gives huge tax breaks to corporations and the 1 percent while massively increasing the federal budget deficit and giving a few crumbs to the middle and lower classes — crumbs that will taken away in just a few years.
You have no problem with handing over billions in tax cuts to a few, but won't authorize a much smaller amount in aid to millions of children and their families.
You'd think that at this time of year, even members of Congress would be a bit more giving, a bit more likely to think of their constituents who might need just a little help from their government to keep their children healthy.
Gov. Wolf joined 11 other governors on Tuesday, Dec. 12, in asking Congress to fund CHIP.
"Congress is failing the children of Pennsylvania and causing unnecessary anxiety for families around the holidays," Wolf said Monday in a news release. "Pennsylvania’s CHIP program depends on federal funding, and it is at risk without Congress doing its job."
He's right, you know. Congress is not doing its job, and it hasn't been for months.
The CHIP program has been renewed every year since 1998 without a fuss because everyone realizes that it's important for working families to be able to have health insurance for their children.
Congress could have reauthorized the program in January and had the bill on Trump's desk ready to sign Jan. 21.
Instead, they've spent their time first trying to do away with health insurance for adults through the Affordable Care Act and, failing to do that, they're now haggling about giving states the money needed for CHIP.
Oh, and giving tax breaks to millionaires, that's something Congress can really be proud of.
It's past time for Congress to step up and fund CHIP. If they fail this bipartisan, relatively cheap program that does so much good for children across the country, each member of Congress should have to personally go to the homes of the families in their district and explain to them why an ideology is more important than their children's health.