During the current legislative session, United Way is advocating for safe and healthy families, better healthcare coverage and digital inclusion
At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we lead the charge to improve education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity. One of the ways we facilitate change in these areas is through our advocacy work.
United Way is in a prime position to use its unique community role, relationships and knowledge to advance bipartisan policy solutions. It may take years—or multiple legislative sessions—to enact these changes, but the results can transform the trajectory of hundreds of thousands of people in our region.
Every legislative session, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas advocates for a wide range of issues and bills that align with our Aspire United 2030 goals. We’ve identified a handful of priority issues toward which we direct our voice and power—and we encourage our advocates to support these legislative priorities as well. Additionally, we frequently lend our name and logo to support the priorities of our coalition partners.
This year, during the regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature, United Way is focused on these areas:
Creating a Safe and Healthy Home
When families experience stress—like they have during the pandemic—risk factors for child abuse, neglect and CPS involvementoften increase. These include domestic violence, housing instability and untreated mental health challenges or substance use disorders.
Home visiting is a prevention strategy used to support pregnant moms and new families, promote maternal and child health, foster school readiness, and prevent child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, less than 4 percent of those most likely to benefit from home visiting currently have access to these services.
We ask the Texas Legislature to expand these programs and reduce the number of children going into foster care by:
- Budget recommendation: Fully support the Department of Family and Protective Service’s Exceptional Item No. 4, which requests $10 million for prevention and early intervention (PEI), including $4.3 million for Project HOPES
- Policy recommendation: Support House Bill 2333 (by Howard) and Senate Bill 1520 (by Seliger), which create a competitive grant program at the Health and Human Services Commission that will accept funds from multiple sources and distribute them to community providers for the expansion of family and newborn support networks.
The pandemic has further highlighted the inequities in access to critical technology infrastructure, and state leaders have prioritized expansion of broadband internet. However, even as access to broadband expands in our state, Texas students, workers and families need support to ensure they have access to digital devices and the digital skills necessary to capitalize on these infrastructure investments. Addressing these barriers to adoption and use is critical to ensuring Texans can access and engage in expanding online work, education and training opportunities.
We ask the legislature to support efforts to create a broadband council and office and expand existing infrastructure, but we also encourage them to:
- Policy recommendations: Support amendments to House Bill 5 (by Ashby) and Senate Bill 5 (Nichols), which expands the focus of the council and office to address all barriers of connectivity—including technology and skills.
Access to Healthcare Coverage
Physical and mental health builds the foundation for school success for children and economic stability for adults. Positive health outcomes and access to affordable, high-quality health care are critical to the economic health of our community.
In Texas, eligible individuals—including pregnant women and low-income children—can apply for Medicaid to receive medical coverage. We are asking the legislature to improve current policies to ensure these programs better meet the needs of these eligible individuals.
Women can apply for Medicaid while they are pregnant, but their coverage ends 60 days after childbirth, which leaves new moms uninsured at a time that is pivotal for their health and the healthy development of their baby. When a mom becomes uninsured, she can access some health services—including safety-net clinics, hospital emergency rooms and the state’s Healthy Texas Women-Plus program—but those options all have significant limitations. This patchwork of services is no substitute for health insurance when a new mom needs a mental health therapist, a cardiologist or medications and other care to address pregnancy-related issues.
For children, Texas has a thorough and effective system for reviewing children’s eligibility for Medicaid during initial applications and in the annual renewal process (which occurs 10 months after enrollment). However, the system for mid-year reviews of children’s Medicaid eligibility—at 5, 6, 7 and 8 months after approving initial applications—takes shortcuts and leads to mistakes.
To improve services and health outcomes for pregnant women and children, we are asking the legislature to:
- Policy recommendation: Support House Bill 133 (by Rose) and Senate Bill 121 (by Johnson) to extend the length of time a new mom has Medicaid insurance to 12 months after pregnancy.
- Policy recommendation: Support House Bill 290 (by Cortez) and Senate Bill 39 (by Zaffirini) to reduce the number of mid-year eligibility reviews to a single income check at 6 months. The bills also would allow families 30 days to respond to the eligibility review.
Continue to Support Previous Efforts
In addition to our new priorities for this legislative session, we want to make sure that policies we supported and gains we made in previous years are protected and continue to advance. These issues include, but are not limited to:
- The protection of local payday and auto-title loan ordinances and support for more reasonable and affordable loans
- Efforts to improve student health, emotional wellbeing and academic outcomes
- Stabilization and strengthening of the childcare industry, which is a critical workforce that also enables parents and caregivers to remain in the workforce
How You Can Get Involved
Lasting change only happens when we work together. Join us in speaking up and speaking out about these and other emerging issues in our state.
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This article was published on: Apr 14, 2021