Washington – With the clock ticking toward a government shutdown, the U.S. House and Senate on Thursday approved a short-term spending bill that may give temporary relief to thousands of Connecticut families who have been notified that health coverage for their children will soon end.
In a largely partisan vote, the House voted 231-188 for a continuing resolution, or CR, that would fund most federal agencies at last year’s levels until Jan. 19. It also would provide about $5 billion to bolster the nation’s missile defense programs and repair the U.S.S. John S. McCain and the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, which were damaged in collisions last summer.
The Senate followed with a 66-32 vote to approve the spending bill, which averted a government shutdown at midnight Friday, when the current legislation funding the federal government was set to expire.
Most Democrats, including all members of Connecticut’s delegation to the U.S. House and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, voted against the short-term spending bill.
It provides $2.85 billion for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, whose funding had not been authorized since Sept. 30, the end of the last federal fiscal year. The CHIP program is know as HUSKY B in Connecticut and covers 17,000 children in the state whose families earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but could otherwise struggle to cover their children.
Because Congress had not acted, the state sent letters to these families this week that said, “After 20 years of offering health coverage to uninsured children in Connecticut through the CHIP program, HUSKY B will end, as required by federal law…As a result, HUSKY B will not pay for services your child receives after January 31, 2018.
With approval of the CR, the CHIP program would be extended to March 31, and even longer in some states. The Connecticut Department of Social Services declined to comment on the issue until after final approval of the CR.
The CR also would provide $500 million in stop-gap funding for a community health center grant program that Congress also has failed to reauthorize, but would pay this by reshuffling funds from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, angering Democrats.
Democrats also criticized the CR for not fully reauthorizing CHIP and the other health programs and for failing to include legislation that would shield more than 1.2 million undocumented youth in the nation from deportations. Most of these immigrants, known as “dreamers’ were brought to the United states as infants or young children by their parents.
Former President Barack Obama used his executive authority to establish a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that shielded youth who qualified from deportation and issued them work permits. But President Donald Trump is phasing out DACA, saying it is up to Congress to approve legislation that would protect these youth.
Congress has failed to act, even as hundreds of dreamers on Capitol Hill this week demanded action.
“In the last month, my Republican colleagues have found the time to give the wealthy and corporations tax cuts by blowing a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit,” said Rep. John Larson, D-1st District. “Meanwhile, in Connecticut, notices have already gone out notifying families of the potential termination of their child’s health care coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).”
Larson also said, “My constituents are also facing the impending closure of the community health centers where they receive affordable medical treatment. In addition, the dreamers in my district are left with unnecessary anxiety as the Republicans have left their status in limbo.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, “Congress in effect is AWOL by delaying decision-making on our government’s budget, woefully underfunding CHIP, patching together meager spending for community health centers, and gutting the (ACA) Prevention Fund.”
“Most critically, I could not in good conscience support another short-term funding extension that does not include protections for dreamers,” Blumenthal said.
Murphy said, “I voted against this bill because people in Connecticut want us to start acting like adults and stop just keeping the lights on two weeks at a time.”
The senator was pressed by Connecticut dreamers, who staged a sit in at his Capitol Hill office this week, to vote against the continuing resolution if it did not include protections for the immigrant youth.
“This tradition of regular, predictable shutdown panics is embarrassing,” Murphy said. “I’m also furious that this continuing resolution does not protect the thousands of young people in Connecticut who President Trump is planning to deport next spring, nor does it provide permanent funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provides health care to 17,000 kids in our state.”