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Focusing on a variety of education, health and youth development issues of importance to children and families in Pennsylvania.

CHIP Turns 25

On Saturday, December 2nd, we celebrated CHIP’s 25th birthday in Pennsylvania.

PPC President & CEO Joan Benso fondly remembers gathering in the State Capitol Rotunda to join Governor Casey as he signed the CHIP statute into law on that day in 1992. Lucy Hackney, PPC’s founder, stood proudly behind Governor Casey and then state Rep. Allen Kukovich and Sen. Alyson Schwartz – the bill’s prime sponsors. It was one of the greatest moments in PPC’s 25-year history.

CHIP has always enjoyed strong bi-partisan policymaker support. Five governors and countless state legislators have continued to champion CHIP over these many years and thousands of children have benefited.

Pennsylvania’s CHIP program served as the model for the national program – the State Children’s Health Insurance Program or SCHIP – when it was enacted in 1997. PPC helped lead the charge when our state-only funded program was enacted in 1992; in 1997 when the federal law passed; and when Pennsylvania passed Cover All Kids in 2006.

Joan says that in all her years advocating for children’s health care, she has yet to meet a state or federal lawmaker who doesn't think CHIP is a program that works, who doesn't think CHIP is a program worthy of public funds and who doesn't think that a strong CHIP program shouldn't be in place for Pennsylvania's children.

So why are the parents of 178,000 children who rely on it for their children’s regular doctor visits, vision, dental and prescription coverage worried? Because, if Congress doesn’t act quickly, the families of these children won’t be receiving holiday greetings in the mail, they will be receiving coverage termination notices.

Teresa Miller, Acting Secretary of the Department of Human Services, this week said she has a draft letter sitting on her desk informing families that their coverage is being terminated – a letter she hopes she never has to send.

Approximately 96% of Pennsylvania children have health insurance. More than 1.4 million or 46% of Pennsylvania children are insured through CHIP and Medicaid. The rate of uninsured children in our state has dropped by 20% in the last five years and this is in part to CHIP as well as the reforms driven by the Affordable Care Act.

Pennsylvania must continue its progress, not go backward and certainly not to the extreme of having to notify the parents of 178,000 kids that their children will lose CHIP coverage. There’s just no reason why Congress can’t get this done very quickly – funding for the program expired two months ago on September 30th.

We hope our Congressional delegation does the right thing and gives peace of mind to the parents of CHIP kids so that they see no disruption in health care services in the new year.

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How the Governor's 2017-18 Budget Proposal Affects Kids

On Tuesday, Governor Wolf presented his 2017-2018 budget proposal, using a different approach to addressing the state’s growing fiscal deficit: rather than proposing a broad-based tax increase, his plan instead calls for notable changes to the operations of state government, including merging the Departments of Human Services, Health, Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs into one entity, which would be called the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Governor’s proposal includes the following investments that affect children and youth in the Commonwealth:

  • $65 million in additional funding for the state’s Pre-K Counts program and an additional $10 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
  • An additional $9 million investment in evidence-based home visiting programs that would support 1,700 additional families.
  • A $35 million increase in state funds for child care - including $10 million that will make it possible for 1,800 kids currently on state waiting lists to enroll in a child care program.
  • A $100 million increase for Basic Education Funding to be driven out through the newly-enacted student-weighted formula that would increase the state’s fair share of providing basic education services to students.
  • An increase of $25 million for special education funding through the enacted Special Education Funding Formula.
  • An increase of more than $57 million designed to meet the goals of county child welfare needs based budgets.
  • Continued state funding for both the Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

You can find PPC’s full coverage of the budget proposal including all line items related to children’s investments here.   

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Repeal of the ACA Would Double the Number of Uninsured Kids

One of the great success stories of the past two decades has been the increase in the number of American children who have health care coverage. We just celebrated the fact that our nation achieved the historic milestone of 95 percent of children with health care coverage.

Now Congress is considering a hasty, ill-conceived plan that would take our country on a U-turn. The number of uninsured children would double nationwide if Congressional leaders succeed in rushing forward with their risky plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without simultaneously replacing it. 

According to a new analysis from the Urban Institute, here in Pennsylvania, an estimated 956,000 would lose coverage - including many children, families, disabled individuals and people with pre-existing conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. 

Keeping our children healthy is key to many of the state’s goals. Asthma, diabetes, even tooth decay can keep children home from school, leaving them to fall behind academically.  Sick children can keep parents home from work, affecting their productivity. Healthy communities are prosperous communities, vital to our state's economic success.

A repeal of the ACA would also create chaos in Pennsylvania's health care system and wreak havoc on our state budget. Over a 10-year period, Pennsylvania would lose $36 billion in federal funding to meet the health needs of its residents.  Our governor and legislature already have their work cut out for them and the health care needs of Pennsylvania children and families won’t disappear when they lose their coverage.

Yet Congressional leaders tell us and our state legislators not to worry. They ask us to trust them in developing a replacement when they have been unable to agree on any such plan in the past six years. 

The stakes are too high for us to hope this time will be different. A repeal would simply pass the buck and leave Pennsylvania with a huge hole in its budget and our health care safety-net.

Voting to repeal the ACA without a replacement plan attached is not responsible governing; it’s a risky step that threatens the health of children and families.

Our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. should show responsibility and forethought by not rushing forward to repeal the ACA before they have done the hard work to negotiate and approve a replacement plan simultaneously. They owe all Pennsylvanians that much. 

To see the Urban Institute's full analysis, click here.

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Pennsylvania Making Great Strides in Covering Uninsured Children

The number of Pennsylvania children who are uninsured declined sharply last year as reforms began to take effect, according to a report released today. The report by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families found that between 2014 and 2015, the uninsured rate for Pennsylvania children declined from 5.2 percent to 4.1 percent. Before expanding Medicaid, Pennsylvania had seen only a marginal decrease in uninsured children the previous year – going from 5.4 percent in 2013 to 5.2 percent in 2014.

The 2015 data in this report does not fully capture the effects of the expansion of Medicaid because it was not in effect for the entire year. Enrollment ramped up in the first six months of 2015, and Pennsylvania will not have a full picture of the expansion’s impact until next year.

Even with the accelerated decline in uninsured children, the report shows that Pennsylvania has continued room for improvement. Only six states have more uninsured children than Pennsylvania, which means that more than 100,000 kids in the commonwealth lack basic health coverage. Pennsylvania also dropped in overall rankings of percentage of uninsured children – from 17th best in 2013 to 24th best in 2015.

Pennsylvania also has the highest rate of uninsured children of all of its neighboring states except for Ohio. The report includes data from West Virginia (2.8 percent uninsured), Maryland (3.9 percent uninsured), New Jersey (3.7 percent uninsured), New York (2.5 percent uninsured) and Ohio (4.4 percent uninsured).

Quality health coverage is essential because every child can succeed when given the chance. When it comes to setting up a child for reaching his or her potential, few things matter more than good health. When children’s health needs are met, they are better able to learn in school and parents miss fewer days of work.

Families who would like help enrolling their children should call 1-800-692-7462 or visit www.compass.state.pa.us.

 

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The Importance of Developmental Screenings

A child’s first years of life are marked by tremendous growth both physically and mentally, and detecting possible delays in development during these early years is a critical part of ensuring every child gets off to the best possible start and is well prepared to learn and grow up healthy.

About 1 in 10 Pennsylvania children may experience a delay in one or more aspects of development, but Pennsylvania lacks a comprehensive way of monitoring how many children receive developmental screenings that could help detect these delays.

Our latest report – Developmental Screening: An Early Start to Good Health – looks at ways Pennsylvania can better promote the use of developmental screenings, educate families about their importance and ensure children with possible delays in development receive appropriate follow-up assessments, care and interventions.

Increasing the use of developmental screenings not only helps ensure healthy outcomes for our children, it also can bring a strong return on investment. One study found well-designed early childhood interventions can generate a return to society ranging from $1.80 to $17.07 for each dollar spent on the program.

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How Pennsylvania's New Budget Impacts Kids

Pennsylvania’s $31.6 billion budget for fiscal 2016-17 includes some notable increases in investments for children, but it also underscores the work that remains in ensuring all children have the necessary resources to succeed. 

“Pennsylvania is losing ground in national rankings for child well-being, and one reason is because we are not being aggressive enough in providing our children and families with the resources needed to ensure success,” Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President and CEO Joan Benso said. “Budgets – even in the most challenging of fiscal times – are about priorities, and we simply have to start prioritizing our children if we want to ensure the commonwealth’s future growth and prosperity.”

Among the highlights of the fiscal 2016-17 spending plan:

  • An additional $200 million for basic education and $20 million for special education, bringing total new education investments over the past two state budgets to $400 million for basic education and $50 million for special education;
  • An additional $30 million for high-quality pre-k programs (equal to last year’s pre-k funding increase);
  • Nearly $200 million in child welfare funding, which will reconcile expenditures from fiscal 2015-16 as well as address some of the needs established by counties for fiscal 2016-17; and
  • $10 million in additional funding for Early Intervention, which provides individualized services and supports to families of children birth to school-age who have developmental delays or disabilities.

While these increases are greatly appreciated (and much needed), they do not go far enough to address the unmet needs of the commonwealth’s children. 

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (which PPC helped found) has estimated that Pennsylvania needs to increase its basic education investments by $3 billion over the next six to eight years. The $200 million increase this year does not put us on a pace to reach that goal. Similarly, we know investments in high-quality pre-k must grow at a much stronger pace if we hope to reach the more than 120,000 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds who miss out on pre-k opportunities each year. 

The enacted budget also failed to include an additional $10 million proposed by the governor to fund Pennsylvania’s evidence-based home visiting programs, and it funds child care services at $12 million less than the governor proposed. 

PPC will continue working hard to ensure children have a voice when it comes to Pennsylvania’s budget priorities. 

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Family-based Care Improves Outcomes for Children

Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they are a part of a loving and nurturing family. In the unfortunate instance where a child is removed from the home due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, there are two primary options for placement: a family-based setting or a group home or institution, often referred to as “congregate care.”

Research shows that children and youth living in family-based foster care have better short-and-long-term outcomes than their peers placed in a congregate care setting. Family-based placements allow for children and youth to benefit from additional close relationships and social supports, higher educational achievement and increases their chance of finding a permanent home.    

To learn more about why family-based care is a better choice for our children and the commonwealth, check out our latest report, Congregate Foster Care in PA.

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Reducing the Use of Congregate Care in PA

Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they are a part of a loving and nurturing family. In the unfortunate instance where a child is removed from the home due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, there are two primary options for placement: a family-based setting or a group home or institution, often referred to as “congregate care.”

For Pennsylvania foster youth aged 13-20, family strengthening efforts like family finding and family engagement services through the state’s General Protective Services (GPS) system are critical. The use of congregate care for youth in this age range has been especially prevalent in recent years, as more than 40% were placed in a congregate care setting on any given day in 2015. Increasing family strengthening efforts could help facilitate deeper support for birth families from their relatives, and could lead to the greater use of family and kin as foster family homes, ensuring every child has a chance to grow up in a family-based setting regardless of age.

To learn more about how Pennsylvania can continue to become less reliant on congregate care placements, check out our latest report, Congregate Foster Care in PA

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Good News on Efforts to Fix Pennsylvania's School Funding

We wanted to share some great news with you. Today, the state House of Representatives approved legislation (House Bill 1552) that adopts the funding formula recommended last year by Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission. Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children supports this formula and is pleased to see it head to the governor’s desk.

“For too long, Pennsylvania has needed a predictable, sustainable way to fund its public schools, and today’s vote is a historic step toward that goal,” said PPC President and CEO Joan Benso. “Of course, any formula - no matter how comprehensive - is only as effective as the money that goes into it. Looking ahead, we now need a state budget for fiscal 2016-17 that puts adequate funding behind a formula and helps drive out that funding in a way that helps ensure every child has the resources to succeed in the classroom.

“We are hopeful the governor and state lawmakers can now work together to continue to make significant annual investments in our schools over multiple years to close the adequacy gap that leaves too many children without the resources they need to learn,” Benso added.

“We look forward to continuing to work with policymakers and other interested parties to build on today’s action and help create an adequate and equitable system of funding Pennsylvania’s public schools for years to come.”

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Family-based Foster Care: A Smarter Financial Choice

Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they are a part of a loving and nurturing family. In the unfortunate instance where a child is removed from the home due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, there are two primary options for placement: a family-based setting or a group home or institution, often referred to as “congregate care.”

Research shows family-based care is a better option for children placed in foster care, as well as less costly for the child welfare system. Congregate care placements cost child welfare systems seven to ten times more than family-based placements and those costs can be even higher when children require additional behavioral health services. Congregate care placement costs place a further strain on a child welfare system already facing budgetary challenges.

To learn more about why family-based care is a better choice for our children and the commonwealth, check out our latest report, Congregate Foster Care in PA.

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