Several stakeholder groups are pushing for the advancement of legislation introduced in late January by state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, which would ensure healthcare benefits are available to all uninsured children under the age of 19 who live in New Jersey.

The measure (S876), referred to as the "Cover All Kids" bill, needs to see action this month, the groups said Tuesday, to give families plenty of advance notice prior to both the beginning of a new school year in September and the launch of the 2021 Affordable Care Act open enrollment period in November.

It would appropriate $3 million for "outreach, enrollment, and retention" in the NJ FamilyCare Program.

"The 'Cover All Kids' bill would open the children's health insurance program to all children who are income-eligible," Maura Collinsgru, New Jersey Citizen Action health care program director, said. "Our current eligibility limit is 350% of the federal poverty limit."

It is those families in poverty, both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, who would obviously be helped most, according to Mark Bullock, community leader for Camden-based Faith in New Jersey.

"No parent should have to make the decision of whether or not they are going to pay a medical bill, or whether or not they are going to go food shopping," Bullock said.

One of the other organizations involved in Tuesday's Zoom call, New Jersey Policy Perspective, made the point that the needs of the state's minority populations are especially magnified right now.

"New Jersey's communities of color have not only been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, but their children, particularly black and Hispanic children, are disproportionately represented among those without health insurance coverage," Dr. Brittany Holom, NJPP senior policy analyst, said.

Carrey Wong, managing attorney for KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)'s Newark field team, said the immigrant families her organization works with have been disadvantaged with specific regard to available mental health treatment.

Finances are not the only reason for that, she said.

"All our clients would benefit greatly from access to culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services, and the constant threat of deportation can continue to have an immense impact on their physical and mental health as well," Wong said.

Other groups represented at Tuesday's event included Lutherans Engaging in Advocacy Ministries, the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice, and the New Jersey Education Association.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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