Congress Extends Funding for Home Visiting

By Stephanie Schmit

On March 31, 2014, the Senate followed the House lead in passing the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act,” which provided a short-term patch to prevent a reduction in Medicare payments to physicians (this legislation is referred to as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) bill – and more informally as the “doc fix” bill). Included were several provisions important for low-income families, such as continuation of “Express Lane Eligibility,” a provision that makes it easier for states to enroll children in public health insurance, and an extension of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program at current funding levels, an important win for vulnerable children and families across the country.

MIECHV, a federal and state partnership that has had broad bipartisan support, provides family- and child-related home visiting programs in every state and was set to expire at the end of September. The bill will extend the program to March 31, 2015.  MIECHV targets high-risk families who are most likely to benefit from intensive home visiting services, through which trained professionals (often nurses, social workers, or parent educators) help parents acquire the skills to promote their children’s development. The home visiting programs help families connect to necessary services, such as health care or community resources, and monitor child development and progress on developmental milestones. MIECHV is funded at $400 million for the current fiscal year.

Congress took an important step by extending MIECHV and will need to show continued support for this important program next year. The MIECHV program has been essential for the development of statewide home visiting systems, with states building the infrastructure needed to support lasting, effective programs for vulnerable children and families. Continued support will ensure these families keep receiving the services that help enhance parenting and support young children’s early development—critical components of future success.