As the battle over federal spending wages on in Congress, one crucial program has remained largely neglected: the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Also known as CHIP, the program provides health care coverage for nearly nine million children from low-income families, almost half (48 percent) of whom are children of color

CHIP’s federal funding expired three months ago, and Congress has not yet passed legislation aimed at paying for the program. If it doesn’t act soon, states will soon run out of money to fund it, and millions of children will begin losing their health care coverage starting in January, as reported by The New York Times yesterday (December 14). 

The program, which was established in 1997, provides coverage for children in families that earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance. According to the government’s website, CHIP covers basic prescription drugs, special health care needs, and many other requisite medical services, including the immunizations children need to enroll in school. 

Members of Congress reportedly agree that the federal govenment should provide funding for CHIP until 2022, but they are split along party lines on how to fund the $14 billion per year program, The Times reports. While many states are reworking their budgets to pay for the program, five of them plan to phase out or terminate the program by January 31, 2018, according to a brief from Kaiser Family Foundation. And it’s likely that a total of 46 states plus Washington D.C. will run out of money by summer 2018—which could impact up to 8.4 million children. Many states plan to issue letters to families by the end of 2017, advising them to seek private health insurance in preparation for the program’s termination. 

On Monday (December 11), governors from 12 states wrote to Congress urging them to take action. From that letter:

For twenty years, this program has successfully provided vital health coverage and care to about nine million children. Without it, access to essential health services like well child exams, asthma medicine and hospitalizations will be at risk. As health insurance premiums climb at unsustainable rates, this program gives hardworking families access to otherwise unaffordable coverage.

View an infographic from The Times that breaks down how 46 states will fare if Congress does not renew CHIP’s funding here.