When it comes to improving health care access and other goals for children, Missouri’s recent legislative session can be summed up as small victories amid big disappointments.
Given the financial climate in the state and country, we do feel fortunate that programs for children and families largely escaped cuts in their budgets, and we want to thank our area lawmakers who always tried in their votes to answer Partnership for Children’s No. 1 question: Is it good for the children?
One example of good news is the legislature’s decision to continue the funding that allows uninsured sick children to receive treatment at certain clinics under the presumption that they are eligible for state children’s health insurance enrollment.
But health-care expansion has to go at the top of the disappointment list. Particularly troubling was the failure of proposals to expand health-care coverage to 27,000 uninsured children and to insure an additional 35,000 low-income parents.
Children are more likely to be enrolled in health-care coverage if their parents are covered. After the significant cuts to Medicaid in 2005, there was a precipitous drop in the coverage of children whose parents had been taken off the rolls.
Another disappointment was failure again this year of the proposed Quality Rating System for child-care programs. It would help parents assess the quality of care and education their children are getting.
Partnership for Children has endorsed this proposal for three years, and this year gains were made: the House approved the legislation for the first time. However, it later was defeated in legislative wrangling over a massive education bill. The House vote, however, should encourage children’s advocates to try again next year.
During these tough economic times, it is important to enact policies that help people to hold down jobs and continue to provide for their families. A major victory this year was hard-fought legislative approval to spend $42 million in federal stimulus dollars over the next two years to help low-income, working parents afford child care.
Partnership for Children hopes the Department of Social Services will expand child-care assistance guidelines for two years to aid low-income working families who are struggling during this economic recession.
Other successes for children and youth include:
• Stronger physical education requirements to improve health outcomes and combat childhood obesity.
• A “Foster Care Education Bill of Rights” that plugs the gaps that often occur in foster children’s education due to bureaucratic hurdles and delays in transfer of pupil records.
• A $1.6 million increase in the state’s allowance to foster parents so they can purchase clothing and diapers for the children in their care.
The 2009 session particularly was disappointing for children’s health care, but we are confident that Gov. Jay Nixon will do what he can to reach out to families with children who are eligible but not yet enrolled in the state’s children’s insurance plan.
Charron Townsend is president of the Partnership for Children, a non-profit based in Kansas City.