Federal Safety Net Programs Face Uncertainty in Congress

By Giammarise, Kate; Hamill, Sean D. | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 30, 2017 | Go to article overview

Federal Safety Net Programs Face Uncertainty in Congress


Giammarise, Kate, Hamill, Sean D., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Because Congress failed to act in time, multiple safety net funding programs will head over a fiscal cliff this weekend, including those that provide for children's health care, rural hospitals, and Medicaid and uninsured patients.

But efforts in the House are expected to begin next week that congressional staffers say they hope will be approved quickly enough to prevent any long-term financial problems for those who depend on the programs.

The funding set to expire this weekend affects the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, which covers 176,000 children in Pennsylvania; a program that provides 70 percent of the federal funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers that care for more than 800,000 low-income Pennsylvanians; the National Health Service Corps; and the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

Recognizing that two safety nets - the Special Diabetes Program and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program - would run out of money this weekend, Congress this past week approved bills to extend funding for them as part of a disaster relief bill.

The programs generally have wide, bipartisan support. Those that have not yet been funded, including CHIP, are expected to be part of bills that will be introduced next week.

"There does seem to be agreement in both chambers" that CHIP should be extended, said Joan Benso, president and CEO of the advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. "But the most important question is, what happens to the 176,000 children covered by CHIP [in Pennsylvania] until they approve" continued funding?

Some states, like Minnesota, say they will run out of money for their CHIP program, and others, like Utah, are threatening to end their programs.

There wouldn't be an immediate impact on the CHIP program - funded jointly by the states and federal government -- in Pennsylvania, though state officials are still urging Congress to act.

CHIP provides health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

Pennsylvania's program could run through February, according to a statement from the state Department of Human Services.

"We would notify families at least 30 days before the date the program terminates for lack of funding," said Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the department.

The Home Visiting Coalition, advocates for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, called the anticipated lapse a disappointment, particularly in light of "decades of evidence that MIECHV-funded home visiting models improve the health, development and education of young children."

Home visitor programs assist pregnant women and parents of young children by sending a nurse, social worker or other trained person into the home who can assist with issues such as prenatal care, breastfeeding and child development.

Earlier this year, citing the positive impacts of home visiting, Allegheny County - with financial support from local foundations - launched a campaign to expand awareness of the services available to new moms. …

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