Local lawmakers continue push for CHIP funding

Two Rio Grande Valley congressmen are among 99 House members urging the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program without slashing health coverage for others.

Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, signed on to a letter to Senate and House leadership pressing them to work together to extend funding for the program which expired on Sept. 30.

“CHIP is a critical program that provides health coverage to millions of children and must be reauthorized immediately,” the letter states. “It does not make sense, however, to pass any legislation that simultaneously harms children and families by undermining other important health programs. No one should have to lose coverage for others to maintain it.”

The program covers about 23,000 children in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties as of August, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank based in Austin.

“It particularly impacts South Texas harder than probably the rest of the state,” Gonzalez said noting the area’s socio-economic status. “Right now, because of CHIP, we have probably the lowest uninsured percentage of children historically.”

Last month the House of Representatives passed legislation to fund CHIP but the bill was opposed by many Democrats because the bill cuts more than $6 billion from the Preventative and Public Health Fund. That fund gives money to programs that improve access to vaccines for children, opioid treatment, youth suicide programs, and diabetes prevention services.

“This bill weakens coverage for too many Americans,” the letter states, “cutting funding for financial assistance for middle- and working-class Americans who purchase subsidized coverage in the Marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act.”

The letter, sent by U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, emphasizes the benefits of the program in providing health coverage for 9 million children nationwide and points out its history of bipartisan support. The program was created by a bipartisan measure in 1997.

In addition to providing coverage to children, CHIP also covers about 370,000 pregnant women across the country. The program is mainly funded by federal dollars though states do pay for part of it.

Since funding for the program expired, states have had to rely on reserve funding to keep the program going. Those funds are expected to run out in Texas at the end of January.