Measure would impact infant feeding program to target Planned Parenthood
BY World's Editorial Writers
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
4/26/11 at 4:23 AM
Among the headlines, one doesn't ever expect to read in the local newspaper: "Lawmakers take food out of the mouths of babies."
Unbelievably, something like that occurred last week in the Oklahoma House. Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, moved to amend a senior nutrition bill so that it prohibits independent contractors from distributing federal funds for a program that feeds mothers, babies and small children.
Why would Murphey do such a thing? Because Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, based in Tulsa, is among the nine independent contractors that administer the federal Women, Infants and Children feeding program.
Debate over the amendment made it clear Planned Parenthood was the target, observers say. Planned Parenthood has become a favorite target of the right wing lately over the abortion issue, even though Planned Parenthood in Tulsa doesn't perform abortions.
Murphey may not have known that. And apparently he and the other House members who approved the amendment also didn't know they were cutting off eight other contractors. The measure also prohibits Margaret Hudson and Morton Health Services in Tulsa from participating in the WIC program. In Oklahoma City, six independent contractors were knocked off the WIC list by the amendment.
And how many women and children do these independent contractors serve? In the case of Planned Parenthood, the agency provides more than 42,000 caseload contacts a year - a figure representing about 9,300 unduplicated individuals. Collectively, the three Tulsa sites serve almost 16,000 individuals through about 76,000 site visits a year.
The amendment would allow governmental entities - mainly county health departments - to continue distributing WIC vouchers. But it's no stretch to argue that the women who obtain WIC from the independent contractors might have great difficulty finding their way to a health department site. Remember, these are not women of means. Many, if not most, would have to rely on public transportation - with one or more small children in tow. Some of the new mothers are younger than 16 years old and obviously would have no choice but to rely on someone else to drive them.
Rumors flew late last week, after the House approved the amendment, that some step would be taken to restore at least some of the independent contractors to the WIC program. Obviously, Planned Parenthood wouldn't make the cut. But according to Capitol observers, it's not clear how, or even if the measure can be undone. Nor is it clear whether one individual contractor can be singled out in this way.
It's ironic lawmakers would target an agency that provides extensive prenatal and pediatric services to women and children, as well as early screenings for all kinds of childhood conditions. Tulsa's Planned Parenthood clinics annually provide about 8,600 prenatal visits a year and 5,600 pediatric visits. For many Tulsa-area residents, the care provided at a Planned Parenthood clinic is the only care they get.
If administrative costs are a target, here's the response: Only 6 percent of the funding Planned Parenthood receives from WIC is for overhead and administrative costs. The rest goes into food vouchers and direct services.
Yet another worrisome consequence of this amendment: If there aren't enough providers to serve all WIC clients, and the client rolls decline, then the federal funding for the program might be cut back - at a time when more money is needed for such purposes.
It's becoming tiresome that a primary-care agency with a long history of serving the underserved continues to be a target of pure and simple politics. One would hope lawmakers would have done their homework on this action before approving a measure that punishes new mothers and babies. But that would be too much to hope.
Original Print Headline: Target: babies