Human Services: Consider the Children

Human Services: Consider the Children
Illustration By Doug Potter

Concerning public benefits, "half a loaf is better than none" is a recurring theme of the 80th Lege, as progressive Democrats seek user-friendly Republicans willing to work toward repairing the damage wrought by the even more tightfisted 79th. In that context, in which fiscal conservatives still hold the upper hand, Dems have held their noses and voted for watered-down proposals fit for GOP consumption – or else end up holding their hats.

CHIP Saved: Last week's grim headlines that 17,098 fewer children will be covered under the Children's Health Insurance Program in May than April was tough on the kids but couldn't have come at a better legislative moment. The dramatic enrollment drop forced Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to withdraw his opposition to a bill designed to prevent such catastrophes. While HB 109 by Rep. Sylvester Turner had won bipartisan approval in the House, the bill had stalled in Senate Finance because Dewhurst and other conservatives opposed allowing families to reapply for CHIP once a year instead of every six months (i.e., rationing by regulation). As last week's news fully illustrated, the six-month rule carries strong potential for disaster.

Healthy Due Process: People denied food stamps or Medicaid might win an administrative appeal under a bill that veteran Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat has spent his entire legislative career trying to pass. It took the support of key GOP House leaders to secure HB 75's overwhelming victory, with only 17 Republicans voting no (including one of the bill's co-authors, Terrell's Betty Brown). Sen. Jeff Wentworth (joined by Kirk Watson and Carlos Uresti) is carrying the bill in the upper chamber where – barring any last-minute snags – supporters anticipate a similar outcome.

Welfare to Work: Competing House and Senate bills offer two different methods for enforcing federal work requirements for adults leaving or participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Advocates for low-income Texans favor Naishtat's more client-friendly HB 3759 over Kyle Janek's SB 1096. At press time, both are pending in the House Human Services Committee.

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