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Home-Visiting, Children's Health Insurance Programs Reauthorized


In passing the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act on Tuesday evening, the U.S. Senate secured another two years of funding for two programs aimed at helping kids get a healthy start: home visiting and affordable children's health insurance. 

The reauthorization will provide $800 million for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program over fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Though the vote doesn't come as a total surprise, it comes at a time when early-education advocates are pushing the narrative that early education is a bipartisan issue. Senators voted 92 to 8 in favor of the reauthorization language.

The Senate vote follows a similarly strong bipartisan "yea" vote from the House in March. That count was 392 to 37 in favor.

Home visiting is the practice of sending nurses or other social service providers into the homes of pregnant women and new mothers to help set them and their children on a healthy course. A few of the most-rigorous such programs, like the Nurse Family Partnership program, have produced significant results for women and children in terms of both health and early school performance. I wrote in depth about that program a year ago for EdSource Today, and my colleague, Christina A. Samuels, has written about the once-looming renewal deadline for the program for Education Week

The Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, was also extended through 2017. An amendment by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to extend the program for four years, instead of two, failed. CHIP provides low-cost health insurance for children from families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still struggle to pay full price for insurance. Benefits vary by state, but universally include routine checkups, immunizations, prescriptions, and dental care, among other health-care basics.

In a random side note, the Act's Title V, which covers home visiting, also includes a provision for abstinence education. The language in the bill provides $50 million for education that "has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity."

However, that allocation is only set down for each of the fiscal years 2010 through 2015. And the reauthorization voted in on Tuesday does not adjust that language. (But it did adjust other relevant language, see update below.) So unless the funding for abstinence-only education funding has moved to some other federal bill, that funding would run out at the end of the current fiscal year. Which could mean the end of an era for public school teenagers everywhere.

UPDATE (April 16, 12:35 p.m.): The funding for abstinence-only education did move, though it moved within the bill to another section. It also increased. There will now be $75 million available per year to fund abstinance-only education. So public school teenagers will still be getting told that their only gaurantee against pregnancy is to not have sex. 

Photo: Nurse Georgia Graves smiles at Avery Sanchez, 6 months old, during a visit to the infant's home in Oceanside, California. Graves' work in San Diego County is part of the California Home Visiting Program. (Lillian Mongeau/EdSource) 

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