Money for Nothing

Even while lawmakers voted for the draconian cuts for women's health, and facing a $27 billion budget shortfall, they nonetheless saw fit in 2011 to increase – for the third time in as many sessions – the budget for the Alternatives to Abortion program created in 2005 by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. That program uses a combination of federal welfare and state general revenue to fund unlicensed and unregulated "crisis pregnancy centers" and maternity homes with the purpose of "promoting childbirth." The program, administered by the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, was initially funded with $5 million during the 2005-2006 biennium, funding that grew last year to
$8.3 million. With those funds, TPCN pays a network of CPCs across the state – reimbursing them for "counseling" and other client services, including referring women to other government-funded programs like Medicaid and food stamps – and pays for other services, such as manning a toll-free hotline for women seeking help dealing with crisis pregnancies.

The usefulness of that investment is highly questionable. According to TPCN's most recent budget, nearly $900,000 of state funds will go to payroll and associated administrative costs. Those cover website hosting, travel, rent, and the billing system – as well as expenses associated with "outreach," including $75,000 for pamphlets that, as the Chronicle previously reported, were purchased from religious organizations or contained flatly inaccurate "medical" information and $1,500 for the toll-free hotline. In 2011, the TPCN hotline fielded a total of 32 calls – 32 – from across the entire state. In all, TPCN's CPC contractors served 16,215 clients last year (although TPCN reported that more than 82,000 people "visited" one of its contracted centers) at a cost of just more than $3.1 million – all this without providing any actual medical services. The bulk of that money was spent on "counseling" at a cost of roughly $1.05 per minute, for a total of roughly $2.3 million. (Some providers, including several Catholic charity organizations, employ master's-level counselors, but not all contractors do. Indeed, the state does not require that the CPCs employ any licensed professionals, though TPCN does require that staff "have received comprehensive pregnancy counseling/mentoring skills orientation and training.") Another $88,000 paid for "referral" time – including referrals to health care services and for other government programs – and roughly $470,000 went to reimburse the centers for parenting classes.

So, while the infrastructure for actual medical services for underserved women in Texas is crumbling into ruins, the pot of money made available by the Legislature for "childbirth promotion" (or more accurately, anti-abortion propaganda) continues to grow.

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