Sen. John Fonfara, left, said it would be “a struggle” to find funding to expand state health coverage for thousands of undocumented children. Mark Pazniokas /
Sen. John Fonfara, left, said it would be “a struggle” to find funding to expand state health coverage for thousands of undocumented children. Mark Pazniokas /

Despite early enthusiasm and a brawny push from the nonprofit health community, lawmakers now say a plan to extend state-sponsored health coverage to about 18,000 undocumented children is unlikely to succeed this year.

The proposal, hailed by advocates as crucial in protecting some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable people, would open Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as HUSKY A and HUSKY B in the state, to people younger than 19 regardless of their immigration status.

Nonprofit groups had estimated the first-year cost to be about $4 million and the second-year expense to be $15 million. The state Department of Social Services, which administers the programs, had warned the annual price tag could reach $64 million and would not be reimbursed by the federal government.

Officials with Connecticut’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis recently pegged the cost at $53 million per year for the next two years.

“That kind of number, given our current efforts to try to just balance the budget, would be a struggle,” said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, a co-chairman of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. “I don’t see how we generate the revenue to pay for something like that, or how appropriations incorporates that into their budget.”

“We get a lot of requests that have big ticket items and they may be important in terms of affecting folks,” he said, “but our challenges are significant just in meeting our current obligations.”

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, a longtime co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, expressed concerns similar to Fonfara’s.

While she did not rule out the prospect of incorporating the expansion into her committee’s budget proposal, Walker said finding more than $50 million per year for a new initiative would be very difficult.

Though cost was always an issue, proponents of the legislation have noted that it could help defray the escalating expense of uncompensated care.

“Preventative care for children reaps huge outcomes in the long run,” Jay Sicklick, deputy director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, told the CT Mirror in March. “It reduces acute care costs that are going to be borne by acute care hospitals down the road if children who are ineligible for health coverage are then forced into emergency situations.”

Gislene Batista, right, stands with her 11-year-old daughter, Emily. Batiste, who came to the United States from Brazil, is pressing for state-funded health coverage for undocumented children like her daughter.

In testimony last month, nonprofit and state advocates expounded on the benefits of the plan, including its potential to encourage thousands of young people to seek routine health maintenance. They were joined by undocumented families who pleaded with lawmakers to help their children.

Gislene Batista, who fled her native Brazil to avoid violence, said her 11-year-old daughter, Emily, needs special care. Emily has cerebral palsy.

“Emily has wishes and dreams just like any other child her age, and I know she could be in better health and achieve those dreams if she could have better medical insurance and health care,” Batista, who lives in the Bridgeport area, testified through a translator. “But these things do not work well for us undocumented immigrants.”

The bill cleared the Human Services Committee, but was dealt a setback when lawmakers recently received cost estimates for the program.

“They need to wait until the state is in a much more reliable fiscal position,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton, the ranking House Republican on the Appropriations Committee. New initiatives aren’t affordable in state’s current financial climate, she said.

Connecticut’s finances, unless they are adjusted, are on pace to run between 9 and 10 percent in deficit in each of the next two fiscal years, according to Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget staff. That represents potential deficits of $1.7 billion next fiscal year and $2 billion in 2021.

The Appropriations Committee has until May 3 to develop a counter-proposal to the new, two-year state budget that Lamont recommended on Feb. 20. That plan did not include a HUSKY expansion to serve undocumented children.

Lamont declined to comment Thursday when asked about his support for the proposal.

Lawmakers are striving to adopt a new spending plan before the regular session ends on June 5.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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  1. Yet they don’t seem to have any problem with taxpayers being required to pay for an estimated 22,000 illegal alien kids in schools, many of whom need special teachers and programs.

  2. “They need to wait until the state is in a much more reliable fiscal position,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle …

    Even if the state WAS in better fiscal condition, everyone should recognize that the economy is cyclic. If this were to be enacted, when the next downturn occurs this would become an ESSENTIAL social benefit that cannot be cut or reduced.

    Then what?

  3. My family and children has had to live without health insurance, life-threatening issues left untreated, like millions of other US Citizens who cant afford $3000 per month for one med, and now we’re supposed to pay for the health care, housing, food, and education of illegals, while we don’t care for our own people! Preposterous. That’s why they’re flooding in. And yes, we signed up for the ACA years ago – insurance refused to cover its part, required repetitive tests we paid out of pocket, denied the badly needed meds, and never did covere the minimal subsidy, putting us in medical debt. Teachers are supposed to ignore thousands of tax-payers children, who at school to learn, and spend all year trying to teach unhealthy, unvaccinated, unruly kids how to speak, write, and listen in English, while making sure they ace state tests! ……

  4. So if the economy was booming like Florida and Texas and tax revenues were pouring in, it would be ok to use revenues from legal citizens to pay for illegal aka undocumented people?

  5. Another story about the most vulnerable. This time its kids who shouldn’t even be here in the first place. The next story will be about homeless vets .The next will be about elderly or handicap. Or some diversity inclusion and how the poor can’t make it .At what point do i get to write the story about the most truly vulnerable people in CT . Yes that us, the tax payer. When are we going to be considered the most vulnerable and have someone stand up for us.

  6. wonder why CT is drowning in debt…..our brilliant leaders first find programs they want and then create ways of generating the revenues to fund the same….they must of missed finance 101….you create ongoing revenues at a healthy level and the elect to support programs within the financial parameters created………how in the world do we keep electing these people????????

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