WASHINGTON — A short-term spending deal struck on Capitol Hill last week gives states more flexibility in cobbling together federal cash to keep the Children's Health Insurance Program running.
But lawmakers will need to get back to work Monday on a deal to renew CHIP, which provides health coverage to roughly 9 million low- and moderate-income children nationally, including about 121,000 kids in Louisiana.
Politicians from both parties have expressed confidence that they can settle a squabble over how to pay for the program and reauthorize it before the end of the year.
"We are having bipartisan meetings daily with Republican and Democrat leaders to find a long-term reauthorization solution that will be addressed in a year-end spending bill," said Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican and the House majority whip.
The program reauthorization also included funding for community health centers. Republicans in the House have proposed using an Affordable Care Act public health fund and making changes to Medicare to pay for it, moves Democrats have stridently opposed.
The added flexibility buys time for a handful of states in danger of running out of money for CHIP this month. Louisiana, which has enough cash to fund the program through mid-February, likely won't be affected by the stopgap tweak.
The Louisiana Department of Health says roughly 6,300 Louisianians covered by CHIP could lose their coverage in February without congressional action on the program.
Other children covered by the program likely wouldn't lose coverage, according to the Department of Health, with the state planning on shifting millions from other health programs to keep the program running. But shifting those funds — an estimated $50 million in 2018 — would upend the Department of Health's budget and likely lead to deep cuts to other programs.
Negotiations over CHIP's future come as Congress faces a slew of other last-minute negotiations before heading home for Christmas.
The temporary budget deal means Republicans and Democrats will need to strike another bargain by Dec. 22 or else face the prospect of a holiday shutdown of the federal government.
Another temporary extension for the National Flood Insurance Program — which was given a brief two-week renewal as part of Thursday's deal — is also expected to be part of the next temporary deal as well.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said he expects that extension to carry the flood insurance program into January, with work on a long-term reauthorization likely to begin in earnest after the new year.
The politically potent delegations from Texas and Florida, meanwhile, are clamoring for tens of billions of dollars in federal recovery money in the wake of several destructive hurricanes that ravaged their states, along with the U.S. Caribbean territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Florida and Texas lawmakers have told newspapers in their home states they'd potentially block any spending deal if they deemed the total amount of disaster relief insufficient. Officials from both states blasted the White House's request for $44 billion in disaster funding as inadequate.
"Unless the disaster supplemental appropriations bill is significantly improved before it is brought to a vote on the House floor, we will be unable to support this legislation," a total of 38 lawmakers from Florida and Texas wrote in a letter, according to The Miami Herald.
A number of Republican members have said in recent days they expect disaster funding to end up as part of the Dec. 22 funding bill.
U.S. Reps. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, have expressed hope that a bill overhauling how the federal government handles natural disasters might also get attached to the next spending deal or another piece of must-pass year-end legislation.
The bill includes a number of provisions to give states more flexibility in using federal disaster funds and increasing investment in flood prevention or mitigation projects, and changes "duplication of benefits" rules that have put up major hurdles to accessing federal grant money for homeowners who applied for Small Business Administration loans.
Graves said those reforms, which would apply to 2016 Baton Rouge flood recovery efforts as well as to other current and future disasters, would make an important and logical companion to a new package of hurricane recovery money.
"I think it’s important they go together because, in some cases, the policy reforms are just as valuable as the actual funding," Graves said this week. "If we let this slide past the end of the year, I think that’s a real disservice to the victims."