Saving critical family planning programs and taxpayer money
 

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posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40

Saving critical family planning programs and taxpayer money
by Elaine Taylor Rose and Lauren B. Simonds, M.S.W.
Special to the SGN

The latest revenue forecast puts Washington state even further in the hole, prompting Gov. Chris Gregoire to call for another round of cuts. But not all budget reductions will save the state money.

Further cuts to the state's family planning programs will result in millions of dollars in unintended pregnancy-care costs. Far from alleviating the ongoing budget crisis, cutting family planning funding will only exacerbate the state's financial problems.

The task that lies before the governor and our state legislators is certainly unenviable, especially coming on the heels of several rounds of steep, painful cuts to critical programs and services. These are difficult decisions, with the effects felt most acutely by those most in need.

But one budget decision should be refreshingly easy: preserving funding for family planning care. For every dollar cut from publicly funded family planning services (which include birth control, annual exams, and other basic reproductive health care), the state accrues $4.10 in new unintended pregnancy care costs that year. When women lose access to contraception, taxpayers pick up the tab.

There is ample evidence of the disastrous effects that family planning cuts have on the state budget, to say nothing of the health risks imposed on low-income and marginalized women and families. Funding for family planning already has taken dramatic and disproportionate hits. Since 2005, nearly $16 million per year in public funding has been cut from Washington's low-income family planning programs because of state and federal reductions.

Earlier this year, the final state budget cut Department of Health family planning funding by more than $2 million, which will eliminate basic reproductive health-care services for nearly 10,000 women, costing taxpayers more than $9 million in new unintended pregnancy care costs.

Six out of 10 women who receive care at a family planning health center do so as their primary source of health care for annual exams, birth control, and life-saving cancer screenings. With more and more families slipping into poverty, family planning programs are an increasingly critical safety net. An unintended pregnancy can result in poor birth outcomes, family hunger, homelessness, or expensive long-term dependence on publicly funded programs. But when women are able to plan if and when they become pregnant, they are more likely to complete their education and find and retain employment. The result is healthier women and families.

The state funds many worthy programs. It's a tragedy that financial reality compels budget writers to pit services against one another. It has become painfully clear that the only way to break the cycle of cuts is to bring revenue options into the discussion. But if nothing else, state agencies, legislators and the governor must make strategic budget decisions about cuts in the coming weeks.

We have the rare opportunity to save critical programs and taxpayer money at the same time. Family planning programs, like so many others, are already making do with less. It's incumbent upon the state's leaders to preserve remaining family-planning funds, for the health and lives of women, their families, and for the state's bottom line.

Rose is CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. Simonds is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. Copyright 2011 by the Washington Forum.



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