THE “NEW POOR” TURN TO FIRST 5 LA-FUNDED HEALTH CARE FOR THEIR YOUNG CHILDRENMarch 1, 2011
|LOS ANGELES--Heather Simon Risinger and her husband were clearly middle-class. Both were college-educated and well-paid in highly skilled professional positions. The couple owned a nice home, sent their two pre-teen kids to private Catholic schools and their family was covered with great health insurance.
Heather soon had another baby, left her job and became a stay-at-home mother.
Then, like so many others have experienced during the economic downturn, when her husband's good paying job was eliminated, things turned sour. Without warning, they had joined the ranks of the "new poor," families who have never been poor, or never thought they'd be poor, and are completely unprepared for the economic disaster that's befallen them.
Their medical coverage ran out after a few months. "But while searching desperately for insurance options we learned we qualified for Healthy Kids," Heather said. "It was such a blessing because, at 6 months, Zakary developed a virus infection with high fevers and breathing difficulties."
Her young son was in and out of the hospital for weeks, and the bills were so high they could have never afforded to pay them out-of-pocket. "We would have been homeless," she confided. But she was very thankful for the quality care he received under the Healthy Kids 0-5 coverage.
Countless other families have found themselves in the same predicament and have turned to First 5 LA- funded programs like this one. Available through L.A. Care, Healthy Kids offers low-cost health coverage for children under age 19 to families who don't qualify for Medi-Cal or the Healthy Families program, but meet other eligibility and income requirements.
L.A. Care is a public health plan to help residents obtain free or low-cost health care for their families. Nearly 3,000 children from poor working families receive the 0 to 5 insurance that is partially funded by First 5 LA.
"We could have never gotten this high standard of care without the Healthy Kids insurance," said Heather, whose husband will be returning soon from Iraq, where he was able to obtain full-time employment. "We are making every sacrifice we can to rebuild our lives."
Every year, First 5 LA provides direct services to about 160,000 children and pregnant women in the county and funds 10,700 preschool slots. In addition, it provides school readiness and health and social services to 58,000 at-risk children and their parents and caregivers.
More than 100,000 children received developmental screenings and improved care through First 5 LA's Early Developmental Screenings and Intervention initiative in 2009-10. And First 5 LA provided funding to more than 70 organizations and school districts in the County who serve children with special needs and their families. About 20,000 special needs children in L.A. County are currently receiving those services.
And at the onset of the economic downturn, First 5 investments drew down about $50 million in federal funding to L.A. County through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act federal stimulus package, creating, among other things, more than 1,000 Head Start and Early Head Start slots. These investments are continuing.
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