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SCHIP veto may cut into local Head Start budget

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Unless Congress is able to override a second veto of funding for PeachCare, the impact on health coverage for poor children could be devastating, according to Charles Grant, director of Clayton County Community Services.

On Wednesday, President George W. Bush vetoed legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The bill would have increased funding for SCHIP by $35 billion over five years, and provided health coverage to an additional 4 million people who do not make enough to afford insurance, but who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

"It will affect our budget tremendously," said Grant, whose agency oversees Clayton County Head Start. The agency provides educational and health services to indigent families with children below the age of kindergarten.

"With Head Start, we have to provide them some kind of health care. Many of our people are not making a livable wage as it is, and when you place some of these peripheral barriers on them, it makes it that much harder for them to sustain themselves."

Grant said a lack of adequate funding for PeachCare will add to the cycle of poverty and negatively impact Head Start's ability to provide the children they serve with proper health care.

Grant's view is shared by others.

Elaine Brown, director of McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council, which operates Head Start programs in Henry, Newton, Butts, Spalding, Lamar, Pike and Upson counties, said that 90 percent of the people her agency serves, fall within the government guidelines to receive PeachCare. She said the cuts would make it costlier to provide services to them.

"Head Start is required to do a physical and a screening," said Brown. "If the child does not have private insurance, or is not covered by PeachCare, then it falls on Head Start to cover the cost.

Cutting PeachCare "not only impacts the families, but it impacts the local Head Start programs, because it takes money out of the services that we are able to provide for those children," Brown continued. "It's detrimental to families."

Eme Nsuk, director of Clayton County Head Start, said while 32 of the 352 children her agency serves are undocumented and do not qualify for PeachCare, having other children covered by PeachCare gives doctors an incentive to provide many in-house services to all of the children.

"A lot of the doctors know about the undocumented children, so they have done a lot to help us," said Nsuk. "However, those doctors depend on PeachCare from other patients. They may not be willing to help us anymore [if PeachCare funding is cut] and that means that we will have to pay."

Congressman David Scott (D-Ga), a key supporter of SCHIP legislation, said there was a feeling of "utter disappointment" and "outrage" on the floor of Congress when Bush vetoed the bill for a second time. Scott believes that Bush is using "the bugaboo of immigration" in an attempt to kill the bill.

"We have responded to every concern that the president has raised when he vetoed this bill the first time," said Scott. "It is clearly written in the law that no illegal children are eligible ... throughout his tenure, [Bush] has shown total disregard for poor people.

"This is cold and heartless and mean, and many Republicans feel the same way," Scott continued. "If he was up for re-election, do you believe that he would be vetoing a program that 78 percent of the American people support."

Scott said "about 10 to 12 more Republicans" are needed to successfully override the veto and he will attempt to rally their support in Washington, D.C. for another vote in January.

"In my district and my community, we need this program," said Scott. "We're trying to work with the government and we are going to have to take a final stab at this on Jan. 23."