MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama officials are praising a result of the federal budget deal: Continued funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program.
The compromise approved Monday renews federal funding for six years for the subsidized insurance program for children in low-income families. The program provides health care for 150,000 Alabama children. The uncertainty about its future had created anxiety for families and cast a potential shadow over the state general fund budget.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who had broken ranks with many Democrats in voting for an earlier proposal to end a government shutdown, called the budget vote an example of bipartisan cooperation.
"Those kids that were getting pink-slips on their health care are not going to get those. I wish we could have permanent funding for CHIP. I think it deserves permanent funding. But right now as someone who has only been here for two weeks, I take the small victories with the large ones," Jones said.
Jones said a bipartisan group of senators who had worked on the deal, grew in numbers until its passage on Monday on an overwhelming vote.
"I always look for the silver lining. The silver lining is that you saw a bipartisan group of senators come together and not point fingers... whose only goal was to find a path forward and reopen the government and let everyone have their say," Jones said.
The program provides insurance for 85,000 children on the state plan known as ALL Kids. It also provides funding for another 70,000 children on Medicaid. Those children would have kept coverage, but the state would have had to pick up the cost.
Jim Carnes, policy director for the Arise Citizens' Policy Project, said, "The parents of more than 85,000 children with ALL Kids coverage finally received some overdue good news today: Their kids aren't about to lose health insurance." However, he added that it "never should have come to this."
"CHIP funding deserved a quick, straightforward renewal before it expired nearly four months ago," he said.
Under the six year-renewal, federal funding would continue at current levels for two fiscal years. Beginning in fiscal year 2020, the state will have to pick up some of the costs as an enhanced matching rate expires.
Legislators had called CHIP funding the major uncertainty for the legislative session.
State Rep. Steve Clouse, who chairs the budget committee, said the state can "breathe a collective sigh of relief here."
"It was very good news," Clouse said.