Red states hate children

Here’s one of the least surprising developments of 2023: The “pro-life” red states fighting hardest to force women to give birth are also hell-bent on making life miserable for young families. Four such states made headlines in the past few weeks for demonstrating just how much they want children to suffer.

Iowa and Nebraska decided that food-insecure kids can make it through the summer without extra assistance. The states have declined to participate in the federal Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children, known as Summer EBT, in 2024. The program gives families an extra $40 per child each month in the summer to ensure that kids who depend on school lunches are still fed. Participating states are required to pay half of the administrative costs of the program, which would cost about $2.2 million in Iowa, according to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and the state’s education department.

“Federal COVID-era cash benefit programs are not sustainable and don’t provide long-term solutions for the issues impacting children and families. An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic,” Reynolds said.

The answer to childhood obesity is apparently starving the tykes, as far as Reynolds is concerned. But Reynolds didn’t have any qualms about spending the state’s money when it came to unsuccessfully defending a harsh abortion ban in court.

Iowa’s estimate of the cost might be a little high, since neighboring Nebraska estimates it would only have to provide about $300,000 to receive about $18 million in federal food assistance for children—assistance the state is choosing to forego. But all those kids will be just fine, said Republican Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen.

“We’re going to feed all those kids way better than this federal program,” he said, because they can get food if they go to school or get “fed at a church camp or in a church.”

Other “pro-life” states are proving that it’s really not about protecting the children by disenrolling them from Medicaid. Congress did not extend pandemic-era protections for adults and children on Medicaid after the pandemic declaration expired, so states have been free to start dumping the millions who gained health care coverage. Most states have used the numerous federal options available to keep people covered, but many red states—including those that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act-–have been kicking people out of coverage by the millions. That includes 3 million children in total, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS.

Nine red states account for 60% of the kids who’ve lost Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage since April, when the “unwinding” from the pandemic protections began. According to HHS, the 10 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid have kicked more children out of coverage than the 41 states (including Washington, D.C.) that took the ACA expansion.

Florida removed 800,000 people from its Medicaid rolls in 2023, including 360,000 kids. About half of those 800,000 lost coverage not because they were no longer eligible but because of administrative red tape, like not having updated contact information. The Florida Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy advocacy group, calls the mass loss of coverage for kids “a child health insurance crisis.”

Likewise, ruby-red Idaho has rushed to take health care away from children. Back in 2018, voters forced the state to accept the Medicaid expansion through a ballot initiative, but that doesn’t mean Republican officials are happy about it. Idaho is tied with South Dakota for the highest child removal rate, with 57,000 children losing health care coverage.

That’s just the way it goes, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesperson A.J. McWhorter implied in a statement, saying the agency followed federal law in its unwinding.

“Idaho cares about our families and particularly our children, but Medicaid state and federal eligibility requirements exist for good reason,” McWhorter said.

The Republican leaders in these self-proclaimed pro-life states are once again proving that caring for children and families has never been their priority.

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