Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Colorado childhood poverty up, quality of services down

The Colorado Children's Campaign will officially release their annual report on the status of Colorado's children this morning. The news is not good.

Almost twice as many Colorado children are living in poverty as in 2000, making the state's population of impoverished kids the fastest growing in the nation, according to a Colorado Children's Campaign report to be released today.

Roughly 180,000 of the state's children — infants through high schoolers — lived in poverty in 2006, according to the report. That is a 73 percent increase since 2000, researchers concluded by using census and community survey data for the annual statistical review, KidsCount.

It is, by far, the largest jump in the nation. Second to Colorado is New Hampshire, which saw about a 50 percent increase over the same period.

Even more discouraging is that this news today comes on the heals of a report yesterday citing serious systemic issues in the state's SCHIP program.

The state program that delivers health care to more than 53,500 needy children and pregnant women is in administrative disarray, state auditors said Monday.

A report on the Children's Basic Health Plan found that 10 percent of patients were classified incorrectly - either as eligible when they weren't or as ineligible when they were entitled to services.

Hundreds of people were kept on the program after their eligibility expired - for up to two years in some cases.

The report to the Legislative Audit Committee did not estimate a total cost of errors in the $106-million-per-year program.

However, a sampling of 203 patients in seven counties produced errors valued at $48,300 in determining eligibility.

This is really a sad one-two punch for Colorado's kids and Colorado's working families. We're obviously living in times of increasing economic turmoil. The rise in childhood poverty is almost certainly not a one year aberration, as the price of everyday goods and services continue to rise and as layoffs continue to accumulate we're likely to see more working-class families who are living on the margins slip over the edge into poverty. We as a state cannot afford to have our social programs in disarray at a time like this.

How do we fix the Child Health Plan safety net? It certainly appears that the issue is one of oversight, or rather lack thereof. The article on CHP continues,

The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which oversees the program, has no controls to detect fraud and abuse in the 64 county offices that perform most of the task of enrolling patients, the report found.

Nor does the department monitor the counties as they determine eligibility.

Is it as simple a fix as merely shifting some employees from less critical duties to oversight duties and reallocating other resources? Possibly but we're probably also looking at a needed infusion of funds to hire more employees and to pay for statewide hands on audits.

Republicans will no doubt seize on the CHP report as evidence that the program is in disrepair and attack any attempt by Democrats to strengthen the program. If there has been one area though that the governor (no doubt pushed by his Lt. governor who is the former president of The Colorado Children's Campaign) has moved quickly and decisively to invest funds it has been in areas of childhood health and education. Children's issues have been a top priority for Bill Ritter, ranking up their with his more highly publicized environmental efforts.

I think it's important to note that after 8 years of the Owens administration and their complete disregard for the quality of our public services reports like this are to be expected. Budgeting to ensure that programs were run in an efficient and productive manner ran counter to Owens anti-government ideology. Poorly supervised and poorly run government services only enhance the arguments of anti-government privatizers like Owens.

The real test of leadership comes now that these systemic issues have been brought to light.

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