Funding for community health centers expired last September and Republican lawmakers have failed to take action to resolve the matter. About 1,000 health centers throughout the country are facing uncertainty about how they will afford to keep the lights on and serve their primarily low-income clientele.
The Health Resources and Services Administration, under the Department of Health and Human Services, has made money available to community health centers whose funds dried up in early 2018. However, this funding will not be guaranteed beyond March 1.
The budget shortfall is creating chaos among both patients and staff members at the health centers. Some have been forced to lay off staff and cancel plans for expansion.
One population that has been hit hard by the funding delay is children of needy families. Community health centers are also an important source of pediatric care and this group that has faced a series of healthcare threats in recent months. Low-income families with children waited anxiously for 114 days as Republicans failed to pass funding for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The program was finally funded on January 22 after a three-day government shutdown. But this was little comfort to the families who currently rely on community health centers for their pediatric care. These families remain in a state of fear about where their children will go for treatment in the year ahead.
The practice of withholding funds to community health centers has surprisingly not been a Republican strategy in the past. In fact, in the American Health Care Act of 2017, the GOP proposed to allocate more funds to health centers, using the money they intended to divert from Planned Parenthood. Though this bill did not pass, it showed that Republicans see community health centers as a worthwhile investment.
So why the change of heart?
This about-face on funding community health centers appears to be another example of political gamesmanship by Republicans. They deferred action on CHIP in order to use the program as leverage against Democrats, and now they may be doing the same with community health centers.
All at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans.