In Tallahassee, Youth Make the Case for Florida KidCare

By Jared Nordlund, Florida Senior Strategist, Civic Engagement Department, NCLR

The Florida State Legislature in Tallahassee.
The Florida State Legislature in Tallahassee.

It’s never too early to start advocating for policies you believe in. There are five eighth-grade Latinas at the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) who would also agree. NCLR recently joined the young activists for a week of legislative visits in Tallahassee as part of Children’s Week at the state legislature. Our 10-person delegation was led by the five RCMA eighth graders who told me they were making the trip because they understood how important access to affordable health care is to their community. We made our way to Tallahassee to advocate for passage of SB 282, HB 7, better known as “Florida KidCare.” The push is part of a larger effort to expand Medicaid.

There are many key provisions in KidCare, including the expansion of health insurance to more than 25,000 lawfully residing children. It would be achieved by the removal of a state-imposed waiting period for any child who has been in the U.S. for fewer than five years. KidCare would also improve child health outcomes and reduce the cost of uncompensated care to health care providers by allowing low-income immigrant children to receive preventative health care through clinics. Moreover, the state would only be responsible for an estimated $21 million of the $70 million total cost since Florida would draw down approximately $49 million in federal matching funds.

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Even though this was their first time advocating, the RCMA students gave well-articulated and vivid firsthand accounts of how critical KidCare was for their family and friends. Each legislative visit also provided the students the opportunity to tell their own stories of dealing with a lengthy citizenship process while simultaneously living without affordable health care. It’s a situation that all too often ends up with parents being unable to provide necessary preventative care.

RCMA students and State Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah)
RCMA students and State Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah)

Meeting the sponsor of the Senate bill, State Senator Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), was a particular highlight. The students thanked him for his leadership and for working toward accessible and affordable health insurance for working families. Sen. Garcia cautioned that passing KidCare in this session would be a long shot but that, with our help, he would continue educating lawmakers on the bill’s importance in order to garner more support. I was thoroughly impressed with all five RCMA students, as were the school’s Executive Director, Barbara Mainster, Superintendent of Charter Schools Juana Brown, and Civic Engagement Director Lourdes Villanueva. Their ability to improve their storytelling after each visit, hold a conversation with elected officials and their staff, and update their pitch when they learned new information from both sides of the issue was quite the feat for these first-time advocates. In two days, we conducted 26 visits that included the governor’s office, Senate and House leadership, and most of the committee members that were working on these bills.

We certainly left an impression with all the officials we met and we will keep pressuring them as the legislative session progresses.