Op-ed: Congress poised to go big for kids — and build on steps taken by Texans

This commentary by Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle. The San Antonio Express-News published a similar op-ed by Stephanie Rubin.

Congress is on the verge of making life a whole lot better for Texas kids and parents.

The “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation package — which the White House and Congress are trying to finalize and get across the finish line — vastly improves access to affordable health care, delivers for families who need quality, affordable child care and pre-k, and slashes child poverty. Texans should also know that many of these strategies build on initial good steps state leaders have taken.

The bill includes a big victory in the fight for health care for moms — an example of one of the ways that Congress and Texas leaders are pushing in the same direction. The plan in Congress allows moms enrolled in Medicaid to keep seeing their doctor for a full 12 months after childbirth, implementing the top recommendation of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee appointed by Governor Abbott. The Texas House passed the same measure this year on a strong bipartisan vote, but the Senate reduced the coverage to six months before the governor signed it into law.

Kids’ health care will get a boost from the Build Back Better bill, too. Children who receive their insurance through Medicaid would no longer face the risk of cycling off and on their health plan because a parent picked up a couple extra shifts at work one month and momentarily moved into a new income bracket. Instead, children could keep using their insurance for 12 continuous months so they don’t miss out on their doctor’s appointments, mental health support, or prescriptions. The Texas Legislature has recognized this same challenge, passing a bill this year to cut back on inaccurate mid-year eligibility reviews that knock kids off their insurance. Congress is aiming to finish the job the Legislature started.

The package in Congress is also about to deliver a historic health care victory in an area where state leaders dropped the ball. The bill in Congress offers an insurance option to home health aides, cashiers, janitors and other low-wage workers in the 12 states — including Texas — that have recklessly blocked Medicaid expansion. The package closes this “coverage gap” for the next four years by allowing adults below the poverty line to get insurance on HealthCare.Gov for $0 per month. That means more Texans will catch cancer before it spreads, get health care they need before they are pregnant, avoid crushing medical debt and more.

Beyond health care, the bill also ensures that children of all backgrounds — not just those from higher income families — have access to effective and affordable early learning. In recent years, Texas leaders have taken a bipartisan stand in support of quality pre-k investments as a strategy for growing more strong third grade readers — a key developmental indicator of future success. We’re already way ahead of other states, serving nearly 50 percent of four-year-olds in state pre-k. Congress is heading in a similar direction, giving all three- and four-year-olds access to voluntary, high-quality pre-k so they start school with the academic and social-emotional skills they need to succeed.

The early learning proposals also confront the fact that many Texans can barely afford to go to work because child care often costs more than in-state college tuition. Under the plan, a typical Texas family will save $84 per week for each child in care, according to one analysis. The bill boosts the quality of child care, strengthens the child care workforce and greatly increases child care funding, consistent with priorities successfully pushed for by leaders of the Texas Workforce Commission and Texas state legislators like Rep. Angie Chen Button. However, many of the early learning provisions in Congress’ budget package will only work for families if state leaders opt in and implement them.

Additionally, the bill cuts child poverty by continuing for one year the historic expanded Child Tax Credit passed by Congress earlier this year. These monthly payments to families will help meet goals outlined by Texas leaders, like improving mental health, boosting kids’ success in school and stabilizing families so fewer children are removed by Child Protective Services and placed in foster care.

The Build Back Better budget package is a game-changer for Texas kids and families. All the investments in the bill are designed to be fully paid for, largely by shrinking tax breaks for the wealthy and ensuring individuals and corporations pay what they legally owe. We call on Congress to swiftly pass this landmark legislation, and we urge state leaders to leverage these investments to build on the initial steps our state is already taking.