This story originally appeared on WESA.
Federal authorization for a program that helps pregnant women and families with young children will expire at the end of September, and Pennsylvania advocates are pushing Congress to renew it to avoid any disruption in services.
The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program provides home visiting services — a voluntary program for parents of very young children.
Home visitor programs vary. Depending on the program, the home visitor might be a nurse, a social worker, or child development professional. While some programs restrict services to low-income families, others are open to families of any income level. All aim to help educate families about parenting and child development and help them to navigate what can be an intense and stressful time.
Around 3,000 households receive home visiting services statewide; advocates say the program only reaches a fraction of eligible families due to funding constraints.
“There are libraries’ worth of research that showcase the benefits of home visiting under MEICHV funding, including the reduction in maternal mortality and morbidity; improvements to infant, child, health, school readiness, the focus on the family and promoting the well-being and stability of the entire family,” said Sarah Rittling, executive director of advocacy group the First Five Years Fund.
Federal funding for home visiting through MIECHV is about $400 million annually nationwide.
State human service officials say they have enough of a cushion that if the program is not reauthorized on time, there are enough funds to keep the program going for some time. Pennsylvania also supplements the federal funds it receives with more than $40 million in state money to support home visiting programs.
With Congress on recess for most of August, advocates say they are concerned the program’s federal funding and authorization could be allowed to lapse at the end of September.
“I’m pretty panicked that we’re so close to September 30th, and we’ve not seen any movement in Washington,” said Kari King, executive director of advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
When the program was up for reauthorization in 2017, MIECHV reauthorization was allowed to lapse for a number of months, along with several other federal programs, caught in a larger political dispute about the Affordable Care Act and other issues.