WASHINGTON — Connecticut Democratic lawmakers and children’s health advocates are nervous that despite reassurances, Republicans again are targeting the Children’s Health Insurance Program — CHIP — which insures nearly 18,000 children in the state.
The 20-year-old, federal-state match fund provides health insurance to children in families that make too much money for Medicaid but lack private health insurance through parents’ employers.
Washington covers about 88 percent of Connecticut’s CHIP Husky B program, according to the Connecticut Department of Social Services. Amounts may vary, but its cost is in the range of $80 million annually.
On May 8, President Donald Trump proposed a cut of $15 billion in funds already appropriated by Congress — a cost-saving exercise known as a “rescission” in congressional parlance. About $7 billion of that is from CHIP, which covers 9 million children from low-income families nationwide.
Administration officials characterize it as essentially a bookkeeping maneuver designed to cut government spending without any children losing CHIP coverage.
Of the $7 billion involving CHIP, $5.1 billion previously authorized by Congress has expired and cannot be disbursed to states including Connecticut.
The other $1.9 billion is from a CHIP contingency fund, held in reserve in case states find enrollments higher than expected.
With Congress enacting dramatic tax cuts in December, the budget deficit could balloon to $2.1 trillion by 2027.
A House vote on the rescission package could come this week. The measure needs a simple majority in both House and Senate to be enacted.
Connecticut’s all-Democratic congressional delegation is not so sure the juggling will leave CHIP unscathed. And they see sleight-of-hand in Republican concern about the deficit after boosting it through tax cuts.
“The administration’s proposal to cut billions of dollars from (CHIP) and other vital domestic programs will hurt Connecticut families and will do nothing to address the issues facing our federal budget,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty in a statement. “Make no mistake — this rescission plan is not about fiscal discipline. Connecticut families are not going to be fooled by Republican elected officials who added more than $2 trillion dollars to our deficit for tax cuts geared towards corporations and wealthy Americans.”
The Republican-controlled Congress let authorization for CHIP expired with the end of the previous fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2017.
After months of back-and-forth and a government shutdown, Congress reauthorized CHIP for six years in January. A fact sheet put out earlier this month by the White House Office of Management and Budget said the administration “strongly supports” CHIP and had “repeatedly called for (its) reauthorization.”
But Connecticut Democratic lawmakers question the administration’s commitment to the program.
“President Trump and Congressional Republicans have reached a new low,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. “Their latest scam takes $15.4 billion in federal funds away from working families … in order to pay for a tiny fraction of their $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of their shamelessness and irresponsible governing.”
Karen Siegel, a health policy fellow at New Haven-based Connecticut Voices for Children, said a cut to the CHIP contingency fund could prove difficult for Connecticut if faced with a sudden emergency such as a hurricane or disaster-related arrivals from out of state.
“If something happens, an outbreak of disease or a large influx, the (CHIP) money is there to make sure low-income families are covered,” Siegel said.
Without the CHIP emergency money, “Connecticut cannot make up for it because its budget is so stressed,” she said.