Asbury Park Press

Lawmakers Plead For Funding For Uninsured Health Care

Dispute over Iraq troop withdrawal measure endangers program

Asbury Park Press — Tuesday, May 1, 2007

BY MICHAEL RISPOLI
GANNETT STATE BUREAU

TRENTON — State lawmakers joined advocacy groups Monday calling for more federal funding for a program that helps states provide access to health care for uninsured children and poor working families.

Along with the full reauthorization of the federal State Children's Health Insurance Program – which supporters say requires $50 billion over five years – $650 million in emergency funds are also needed to make up a shortfall in funding for 14 states, including New Jersey, supporters say.

"When you're investing in the lives and health of children, that is something we cannot pass up," said Sen. Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, who back in March testified before Congress in favor of renewing the program.

Emergency funds for this fiscal year are possibly in jeopardy as part of President Bush's planned veto of the Iraq war spending bill in Washington. The "supplemental" spending bill on the war includes the health-care funding; a veto may shoot down the bill as soon as today.

NJ FamilyCare, the state's health-insurance program that relies on the federal money, covers some 210,000 low-income children and their parents who cannot afford private insurance but make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The bill before Bush contains a provision setting a date for a troop withdrawal from Iraq. Bush has said repeatedly he would veto any bill with that provision.

While the war-spending bill in Washington was voted along party lines by New Jersey's representatives, the state Legislature is seeing bipartisan support for the FamilyCare plan, as a resolution calling for the reauthorization passed the Assembly in March 75–4.

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, said while an agreement will probably be reached at some point on the war-spending bill by federal lawmakers, "We should focus today on this critical issue of health care and let the leaders in Congress and the president work together toward the other issue of funding our troops in Iraq."

Ev Liebman, program director for the liberal advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action, said the group wants to see the Iraq war spending bill passed with a withdrawal date but that the funding for health insurance programs such as the children's health insurance program should not be subject to the war debate.

Raju Chebium of Gannett News Service contributed to this story.

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