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The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers almost 9 million children nationwide

The line between a working family and poverty can be a thin one.

Growing up on Chicago's South side, I saw parents who worried about their families. Making sure kids were healthy, fed, and on the right track was their top priority.That can be a challenge in any neighborhood, where the temptation of drugs, gangs, and quitting school lurks around many corners.

For many working families, taking care of their children's health can, sadly, be what pushes them into poverty.

Suddenly, problems — financial and otherwise — become impossible to avoid. In 2015, 2.5 million children slipped into poverty as a direct result of their families' medical expenses.

There's a program that can help keep kids healthy, and help families maintain financial stability. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers almost 9 million children nationwide. That's about one-in-10 children throughout the United States.

But funding for the program expires in a few short weeks.Oregon's version of CHIP, Healthy Kids, covered more than 140,000 children in 2014. CHIP primarily covers children in working families with too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance. CHIP closes that gap and helps families make sure their children can obtain coverage.

CHIP bolsters families and keeps kids healthy. From the perspective of a business leader, research shows CHIP can lead to a stronger future workforce — the kind of workforce Oregon needs to remain competitive.

Unmet health needs create some of the most common problems that produce chronic absenteeism from school. Problems like asthma, diabetes, anemia and dental pain. Coverage provided by CHIP reduces the daily impact of these problems.

A recent report from Council for a Strong America touted research showing once uninsured children with asthma enrolled in CHIP, they suffered half as many asthma attacks. Only one-quarter as many of these kids required hospitalization for their asthma. Keeping children in school helps them keep up academically.

Positive effects of CHIP can be profound in families in which children have special healthcare needs, such as a physical or mental disability. These needs often require more attention — especially from parents who can't afford to pay for child care.

For these families, a sick child means a parent has to put aside their obligations to focus on the most important one: the care of their child.A recent study showed half of parents with children who have special healthcare needs spend at least five hours per week to care for their child.

The study found the cost of this lost productivity totals a massive $17 billion in foregone earnings each year. CHIP can reduce that burden, and covers about 200,000 children with special health care needs.CHIP helps keep working families out of poverty. That fuels the economy, providing an essential support for parents and children who are on the edge of financial hardship.

With all of those positives, it makes sense that CHIP has always been a popular, bipartisan program. Yet, funding expires Sept. 30. Thousands of children in Oregon and millions across the country won't be able to access the benefits CHIP provides.

I'm encouraged by the recent announcement of a bipartisan compromise to reauthorize CHIP between Oregon's Senator Wyden and Senator Hatch from Utah. This is an important step, but the clock is ticking. I strongly urge Congress to immediately reauthorize CHIP to help protect kids and families across America.

Michael Harper of West Linn is a former professional basketball player, and current State Farm Insurance owner, member of ReadyNation and Champions for America's Future.

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