Children’s Issues/Legislature

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Hear about what the legislature might do regarding children’s issues this legislative session from Dana Wolfe Naimark, President and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," what do children's issue advocates want to see from lawmakers this year? We'll ask the same question to environmental protection and conservation leaders. And a new poll shows that for most Arizonans, education is issue one. That's next on "Arizona Horizon."
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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. This week, we've been asking leaders and advocates of a variety of issues about their hopes and concerns for the upcoming legislative session. Here now to discuss children's issues is Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Children's Action Alliance. Good to see you again.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Happy new year.

Ted Simons: Happy new year to you, as well. Let's get it started -- there's so much to talk about and so little time but I know that kids care is an interesting concept because I thought that was gone?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well kids' care has been frozen. It's not gone. There are actually still children enrolled in kids' care but very few. We had a temporary freeze that started during the Great Recession and we have an exciting opportunity to lift that freeze and bring back kids' care.

Ted Simons: Before we go further, what is kids' care?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: It's health coverage, affordable health coverage for kids in working families. So it's families who earn too much qualify for Medicaid but earn too little to afford private healthcare coverage.

Ted Simons: So I thought the idea, though, after it was frozen, I guess it didn't end in 2014 but for all intents and purposes it was on its way to ending, that access, expanded access would cover some of these kids and these families.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: That's true and that was due to the Affordable Care Act so some of those children who lost kids' care moved into Medicaid, which is great. It's stable, it's affordable, it's very good coverage. But a good chunk of kids, about 14,000, lost everything. Now, they have the chance to apply for the marketplace. But that is very expensive for low-income families. And, in fact, the cost sharing, so premiums, deductibles, copays, can be twice as much as kids' care, up to eight times as much for kids with special needs. It's really unaffordable for many families.

Ted Simons: So back comes kids' care or so you hope at the legislature this session. How so?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well, representative Cobb from Kingman is sponsoring a bill to lift that temporary freeze and the great thing is, this is so exciting, it can be done at no cost to our state budget. And that is because Congress funded the national children's health insurance program for two years and gave Arizona 100% funding, we're one of nine states with 100% federal funding and that includes funding as well as the coverage.

Ted Simons: Now that coverage, that 100 return, is that for the next two years?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: It's for two years, up until September, 2017. And then Congress will have to look at it again and I believe they will refund it but we don't know for sure what the rates will be.

Ted Simons: I can already hear critics at the legislature saying what happens when Congress says no and they pull the rug from under it?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Right and that's a good question and nothing in life is guaranteed, as we know and looking out two years can be an eternity. But the fact is there will be some refunding and we have an escape valve already in our state law. It's been there since the beginning that says if federal funding doesn't come true, we shut off enrollment. We've done it before. We know how to do it, we know it works, it saves the money, it takes the kids off. So we fully expect that would happen if the federal money went away.

Ted Simons: Do you fully expect this to pass? I can already think of some folks down at the capitol who aren't going to be too pleased with it.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: We're really excited about the opportunity and frankly, it fits right in with governor Doug Ducey's high priorities for all of us, for opportunities for all kids, no matter what ZIP code they live in, that is what kids' care is about. We still have 160,000 children without healthcare coverage. We rank 49th in the country, we can change that. We can do better again at no cost to the budget. We're very hopeful. We think this will get very broad support. We know it has broad support in the community. We believe it will have broad support in the legislature and it has in the past. Remember it started under Republican governor Jane hall, and it's had bipartisan support.

Ted Simons: Real quickly. A couple of other issues. The department of child safety, can that department do better and, if so, how?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Yes, they can do better and what we need is our legislature, as frustrating as it is, as depressing as it is, to stay focused, to stay committed. We can't let up. They need to keep pushing the agency as they have to spend more time and money on in-home services, to keep children safe at home and not in foster care. The legislature has really been leading in that direction. We need the agency to catch up with that priority.

Ted Simons: I think the agency is requesting 21% increase, somewhere along the lines of 65%, somewhere along those lines, $70 million. Is it wise to get that money there without further reform?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: I think the money will come with very specific direction from the legislature, because I think the legislature realizes that it's difficult when foster care is growing, that's where the money goes. But if we need to turn that around and we do, we have to purposely invest in some other areas.

Ted Simons: Before you go, you've mentioned this before. You look at income tax cuts as a children's issue.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Yes, we do.

Ted Simons: How so?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: I know you're going to be talking more about education and you do often on this program. It's very much linked to education. So what we ask all your viewers is when you hear about a tax cut proposal, ask all of our leaders what is that going to mean for long-term education funding? We have a sales tax scheduled to expire that dedicated to education. If the land trust deal passes that will expire in 10 years. We need long-term funding for public education that has such broad support in our state. We cannot sustain public education if we continue to cut taxes.

Ted Simons: The governor has education reforms in mind. We haven't had anything too tangible yet. We might see something Monday, I don't know. Do you wait for the reforms before you start messing around -- chicken or egg?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well, this has been going on since I moved to Arizona in 1986, the same question. You have to do them both at the same time. Look, funding is fuel. It's needed, it's not sufficient, it's needed for education to be successful and we need reforms. We've had many, many reforms, a lot of accountability measures over the years and yet we've let the funding dwindle. We've raised expectations, we've lowered resources. That's a mismatch we can't continue.

Ted Simons: Last question before you go, we started with the idea that a Republican was going to introduce legislation to restore kids' care. Are you seeing more of a push, more of a general agreement among lawmakers that these kinds of services are needed or is this pretty much status quo?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: I think it's a mix. I think Arizonans feel very strongly about supporting our next generation and that children's health education and security is a vital priority. Sometimes, other things get in the way down at the capitol, as you know, so our job is to keep children front and center and we will be there to do that.

Ted Simons: All right, sounds good, good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: President and CEO of Children's Action Alliance

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