Congress’s failure to reauthorize law leaves millions of children in jeopardy

By The Rev. Sarah Strosahl-Kagi

He said to her “talitha cumi!” which means, “little girl, get up!” And he turned to his disciples who could not agree on a single issue regarding the care of the child, and so she died.

And Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, as long as their parents are good, hardworking people and can provide for themselves.”

A Samaritan was traveling that way and took pity on the man. He brought him to an inn and took out two silver coins, but the man had no insurance, so he was turned away and left to die.

Perhaps I am remembering the stories wrong; it is hard to remember in a time when millions of children in the United States have lost or are about to lose their healthcare because Congress has not made children’s health a priority. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), expired at the end of September and is still awaiting reauthorization. Funds are nearly exhausted in all states, leaving the healthcare of millions of children in jeopardy. Congressional leaders carry on with their own state-sponsored care, while the fate of US children lies forgotten in their hands.

Advent is a season of waiting in which we celebrate and remember a mother who anxiously awaited the birth of her baby boy. Now my mind sits with parents anxiously awaiting word on whether or not their child’s lifesaving care will be saved.

After I graduated from college, I spent a few months working in a low-cost health clinic in Southern California. My job was to help patients enroll in the state insurance program for which they were best qualified. Our clinic saw people of all ages but our focus was children, resulting in a steady stream of sick kids and worried parents coming through my cubicle.

I can still hear the screams of pain from the young girl who was in my cubicle one Monday afternoon. She was around 8-years-old and came in with her mom. The young girl looked tired; not the typical tiredness of an 8-year-old in the afternoon, but the exhaustion that comes with trying to be strong when your tiny body just can’t handle anymore.

Three days earlier, the girl had broken her arm. At the Emergency Room, her arm had been set in a sling and she was told to seek follow-up care. When mom and daughter arrived at our office for follow-up, it was determined that the daughter was uninsured. Mom had just started a new job and her employer-sponsored insurance would not be active for a few months. In the meantime, the logical action was to enroll the child in a state-sponsored program to bridge the gap. However, because mom’s job was brand new, she did not yet have the two pay stubs that were required to be eligible for any type of state coverage. All of our attempts to find a solution met with roadblocks, and the little girl and her mom had to wait the month until she could be eligible for care. Dejected, they got up to leave and mom accidentally bumped into her daughter, sending the girl into terrible shrieks of pain, of pain that had lingered for days and was here to stay.

When we talk about people falling through the cracks, these are the faces I see — hard working families who are trying to do their best in a system that seems to be set up for their failure. Too “rich” for some benefits, too poor for others with problems deemed too inconsequential for Congress to be moved to care about.

In the face of such indifference, I am reminded of the hope that Mary sang of, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52)

May it be so, and may the season of hope renew us so that we remember not just the child lying in the manger, but all of the children committed to our care.

Editor’s Note: Congress approved a stopgap spending bill Dec. 21 averting a partial government shutdown. The bill extends federal funding through Jan. 19 and provides a temporary extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Rev. Sarah Strosahl-Kagi is national director of the Emerging Leaders and Scholarship Program at American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.