State will no longer administer Title X family planning funds, averting budget battle

LINCOLN — For the first time ever, federal officials have awarded Nebraska’s Title X family planning funds to a private organization instead of the state.

The Family Planning Council of Nebraska got word Friday that it had been awarded the $2 million annual grant. The money, which becomes available Monday, pays for family planning services, cancer screenings, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and other reproductive health care.

Previous Title X grants have been administered by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, which applied but did not get an award this time.

Council leaders said they decided to apply directly for the funds because Gov. Pete Ricketts has “continued to use the state budget process for ideological purposes.”

“We decided that we wanted to put Nebraskans first and put health care over politics,” said Marj Plum, a council representative.

Over the last three years, Ricketts has pushed for language in the state budget that would effectively bar Title X dollars from going to Planned Parenthood.

Last year, he succeeded in getting budget language that prohibited Title X funds from going to any organization that offers abortions, refers women for abortions or is affiliated with an entity that offers or refers for abortion.

According to that language, referrals include giving the names, addresses and contact information of abortion providers.

Switching Title X administrators this year means that state lawmakers can avoid a repeat of last year’s pitched battle over including that language in the budget.

The Appropriations Committee voted against putting similar wording in their preliminary budget proposal. But Ricketts and his allies in the Legislature have been pushing hard to get it included in the final document.

On Friday, Taylor Gage, the governor’s spokesman, offered no comment about the change in Title X administrators.

But he said Ricketts appreciated the Legislature’s work “to ensure that organizations that perform or counsel for abortion do not receive Title X dollars” and will support the Trump administration’s efforts to similarly restrict Title X funds.

Federal law has long prohibited the use of Title X family planning dollars from being used for abortion services.

New federal regulations would bar funding for any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions. They are set to take effect May 3 but are the subject of multiple lawsuits.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said it would be “appalling” if Nebraska’s Title X dollars end up going to organizations involved with abortion. That would be possible if the new federal regulations are blocked or overturned in court.

“The last two years have made one thing abundantly clear: Nebraskans don’t want their taxpayer dollars funding the abortion industry,” he said.

But Jane Rogers, chairwoman of the Family Planning Council board, said the state restrictions imposed last year disrupted care for thousands of patients. Planned Parenthood previously served half of all Title X patients in Douglas County and 75 percent of those in Lancaster County.

HHS made midyear changes in its distribution of Title X funds after Planned Parenthood could no longer qualify.

The new list included two Omaha clinics that offered little or no family planning services — a crisis pregnancy center and a Catholic clinic that did not provide contraception. Both have since returned their awards because they could not meet requirements for the money.

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