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NE Budget Controversy Over Changes to Title X Funding

Language in Nebraska's state budget bill could mean restricting health care access for at least 14,000 women. (Daniel Lobo/Flickr)
Language in Nebraska's state budget bill could mean restricting health care access for at least 14,000 women. (Daniel Lobo/Flickr)
May 1, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska's budget debate enters round two this week amid a controversy over what some say is a sly attempt to reduce access to health services for low income women.

The budget bill, LB 327, advanced last week with language that would change the way health care providers qualify to receive Title X federal funding, which pays for family planning, annual wellness exams and other health services. Traci Bruckner, policy and research director with the Women's Fund of Omaha, called the move a devious maneuver that has no place in budget talks.

"This is a real dangerous precedent to include language like this in a budget bill, and it's violating the true nature of the process,” Bruckner said. "It's a stand-alone issue that should have had its own hearing to allow people to really understand the implications of such a policy change."

The language adopted in the bill would prioritize funding for federally qualified health clinics, which Bruckner said would exclude many stand-alone health centers and greatly reduce access to care for at least 14,000 Nebraska women. Some have called the change a "pro-life policy," but Bruckner noted that Title X money cannot be used for abortions regardless.

State Sen. Paul Schumacher introduced an amendment to remove the language from the budget bill and study the issue, but it failed by a narrow margin. He said he believes this isn't the time to revamp funding for family planning.

"We are in very, very dire financial straits in Nebraska right now, and it will result in people having children when they are not financially or emotionally ready to,” Schumacher said. "And when that happens, our welfare costs go up."

Health care centers that could be affected by the language in the budget bill include Central Health Center in Grand Island and Kearney, Family Health Services in southeast Nebraska, and Planned Parenthood in Omaha and Lincoln.

Schumacher said there is now a subsequent amendment to assure some of the centers will not close.

"It's not about abortion. It's about family planning, it's about women's health issues, pap smears and those kinds of things,” he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts defended the language and dismissed claims that the change was made to cut Planned Parenthood out of federal funding.

The budget must be finalized by May 10.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE