In a fiscal switcheroo, Texas could free up state dollars to fund the embattled Women's Health Program by seeking federal block grants for other programs, the state's health commissioner wrote in a letter to House Democrats on Tuesday.
Texas is losing more than $30 million in annual federal funding for the Women's Health Program over the state's decision to force Planned Parenthood clinics out of the Medicaid program. Gov. Rick Perry has vowed that the state will find the money, despite a bleak budget, to continue operating the contraception and cancer screening program without federal help.
In response to questions from state Democrats, Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs wrote on Tuesday that his agency is "exploring a number of funding options that would not create additional budget needs." One of those options is to apply for newly available federal block grants for existing state programs, Suehs wrote, so the cost savings could be funneled into the Women's Health Program. "State funds and federal block grants are interchangeable in many programs," he wrote.
Suehs also said some health and human services programs have "achieved efficiences, resulting in savings that can be used to fund the program."
Texas Democrats, who have opposed Republican leaders' efforts to keep Planned Parenthood out of the women's health business, called the financial plan "fiscally irresponsible." Despite Perry's rebukes of the federal government, they say, the proposal relies on federal dollars yet again to keep the program whole.
"The governor and Commissioner Suehs are going to rob state funds and federal block grants that were set aside for one program to pay for services that would have already been funded," state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said in a statement. "This problem was completely avoidable.”
The governor's office said Perry has not received any final funding plan from Suehs and called Farrar's letter "fiction-filled and reactionary."
"Gov. Perry stands by his pledge to identify the funding that will keep these services going and Commissioner Suehs is working towards that plan," Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said.