The latest victims of "politics as usual" in the recently passed state budget are also the littlest. Despite strong state revenues, a handful of legislators effectively exercised veto power to eliminate a proposal by the governor and a majority of legislators to provide $23 million (0.0175 percent of this year's budget) in much-needed funding for locally run programs, called Children's Health Initiatives, that work to provide health coverage to uninsured children. Legislators also eliminated a proposal to expand the Healthy Families program to help provide health insurance to the hundreds of thousands of uninsured children.

By newspaper accounts, the motivation appeared to be entirely political. The biggest irony is that the politics clearly dictate the right thing to do would have been to increase funding to cover more kids.

Indeed, according to a May survey commissioned by the United Ways of California, strong majorities of voters support a plan to provide health insurance for all California children.

In fact, 83 percent of voters said they favor a proposal to ensure every child has health insurance. And, when asked directly about the budget proposal to provide funding to locally run Children's Health Initiatives, 74 percent of voters said the state should provide funding.

Yet, despite the obvious political - and social - benefits of expanding health insurance for kids, the $23 million for children's health coverage was eliminated from the final budget.

CHIs are collaborations between local healthcare providers and insurers, the business community, local governments and community leaders that work to fill the uninsured gap for children. While the state has stagnated in its efforts to cover uninsured children, CHIs have stepped up to plug the health- coverage gap.

Since they began in 2001, CHIs have been responsible for providing direct health coverage to more than 85,000 children and have helped enroll an additional estimated 80,000 children into public programs like Healthy Families. Locally, United Way of Ventura County has been working closely with the county of Ventura, the Ventura County Community Foundation and more than a dozen community-based and faith-based organizations in the development of a Ventura County CHI program.

However, researchers have found that without some consistent state funding, the long-term solvency of many CHIs is threatened, thus putting kids at risk of losing their health insurance. Moreover, due to funding challenges, CHIs have placed more than 10,000 children on waiting lists to receive health coverage. That $23 million could have gone a long way to support the efforts of CHIs to help get kids off the waiting lists.

Ultimately, California needs to move to a statewide system that provides insurance to all children. While our elected leaders missed the opportunity to put money in the budget for CHIs, there is still time for them to do the right thing on children's health when they return in August.

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