Republican leaders and President Donald Trump rushed to deliver tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy and corporations. But somehow they couldn’t find the time to rescue programs that help vulnerable children and young people before heading home for the holidays.
So when Congress reconvenes Wednesday, lawmakers should waste no time before acting to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. While both programs have a respite for a few months, waiting until the last minute is how bad deals and mistakes get made.
California has much at stake, so the state’s delegation – Republicans and Democrats alike – ought to play a leading role in getting this done.
Our state is home to more than 200,000 of the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally and protected from deportation under DACA. They go to school, work and contribute to their communities in many other ways, and very few get into trouble.
California is also home to about 2 million of the 9 million children who get health services under CHIP, a bipartisan success passed 20 years ago. The program builds on Medi-Cal by expanding coverage to children in working poor families who earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal, but too little to afford private insurance on their own. California gets about $2.7 billion a year from the feds, covering nearly 90 percent of the program’s costs.
The program expired Sept. 30, but instead of a five-year reauthorization, Congress has only approved temporary funding, most recently in the stopgap bill to avoid a government shutdown just before Christmas.
That extended funding through March, but all the uncertainty is causing concern for parents and state officials alike. If Congress and the president don’t act, officials could be forced to find funding elsewhere in the state budget, cut back health services, or both.
Young people in DACA and their families have been in limbo ever since Trump declared in early September that he intends to end the program, created by President Barack Obama in 2012. Trump gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a fix he can accept. While there are reports he may extend that deadline, thousands of young people have already missed deadlines to renew their DACA status.
It’s an encouraging sign that some three dozen House Republicans – including Reps. Jeff Denham of Turlock, David Valadao of Hanford and Mimi Walters of Orange County – are publicly pushing for a DACA compromise.
But the prospects for a deal aren’t helped by unreasonable ultimatums from the president. On Friday, Trump tweeted that “there can be no DACA” without his wall at the U.S.-Mexico border – a costly and unnecessary boondoggle – or an end to “chain migration” and the visa lottery, no matter the damage to families and to America’s proud history as a welcoming nation.
The wall isn’t the kind of infrastructure Democrats will support if Trump really wants a bipartisan deal. And despicably holding children hostage for the wall isn’t going to help, either.
Still, with the new year comes new hope for more cooperation in Washington, D.C. The fates of CHIP and DACA are a huge test. These are disasters happening in slow motion. There’s no excuse for Congress and the White House not to prevent them.