Feds Bypass State, Give $13 Million for Family Planning Directly to Women's Health Coalition

Maybe you're not a Yiddish speaker, but you need a handy illustration of the concept of "chutzpah." In Spanish: cojones. Or in English, if you insist: king-sized brass balls. If you need a real-world demonstration of this cross-cultural concept, you have only to look at how your state-level bureaucrats have behaved in their fight with the feds over family planning money. As of yesterday, it's proven to be a money-losing strategy -- $13 million, to be exact.

In the 2011 legislative session, Texas lawmakers cut $73 million -- a full two-thirds -- of the state family planning budget, as well as instituting a tiered funding structure to make sure that family planning clinics got any remaining money dead last, after hospitals and federally qualified healthcare centers. All of that was somehow meant to prevent abortions, which family planning funds never paid for to begin with.

But the state wasn't quite done with their assault on family planning: This time last year, Texas was insisting it could bar Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid Women's Health Program, for which the feds paid 90 percent of the cost. When federal health officials told the state that was illegal, Texas refused to back down. Fine, the feds said, and cut all federal funding to the WHP. Texas insisted it would be just fine without Planned Parenthood or the feds (and continues to say that, despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. )

Despite all this feuding, for some reason, Texas still believed it would be awarded a whole lot of money from the feds in Title X grant funding (Title X being the money that can only go towards family planning efforts). Late yesterday, the feds chose instead to award that cash to a coalition of women's health groups, under the logic that the group could serve more patients than the state's program. That coalition includes Planned Parenthood. That one must sting.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in a press release yesterday that the Title X grant money here would be awarded to the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas. The WHFPT describes itself as a group of "health science centers, hospital districts, health departments, community action agencies, community-based health care clinics and individuals." Together, they operate 121 clinics across the state, serving 800,000 low-income women. The coalition had applied directly to the feds for the Title X money back in November , when it became clear that they couldn't expect to receive much, if anything, if the state was in charge of handing out the funds.

In a statement to the Texas Tribune, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Carrie Williams, insisted that the state has "a long history with these dollars and [has] been dedicated to using them to maximize family planning services for women in Texas." Nonetheless, she added, "Our hope is that the provider base remains healthy and that any transition is smooth for those who need services."

The Title X money will be used for family planning counseling, birth control and preventative healthcare measures like Well Woman exams. It can't be used for abortions, and never has been, by anyone, no matter what your state lawmakers might tell you.

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan