Facing skeptical lawmakers, Human Services official makes $3M pitch for funding for Planned Parenthood

Human Services Secretary Theresa Miller testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Source: PA Senate.

Pennsylvania’s top human services official has defended her request to grant $3 million in state funding to the reproductive health organization Planned Parenthood, stressing that none of the money would be used to subsidize or provide abortions.

In a Wednesday appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa D. Miller assured lawmakers that the healthcare provider would have to undergo independent audits, and sign a contract to ensure that the public funds are not used for abortions.

Miller said the money would instead be used to provide STD testing, contraception, cancer screenings and primary healthcare to men and women who patronize Planned Parenthood’s 30 locations across the state. 

Human Service officials appeared before the committee to defend their $14.3 billion proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which begins on July 1. The request is a 9 percent increase from current, approved spending plan. 

“Planned Parenthood is a really trusted provider for so many Pennsylvanians,” Miller said in response to a question from Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, the first lawmaker on the committee to ask about the agency’s proposal. “This money will ensure those who don’t have insurance … will have access to really important healthcare.”

Miller said the $3 million line item is intended to offset federal funding losses Planned Parenthood has sustained under the Trump administration, thanks to regulatory changes it made last year to the Title X program for family planning.

Federal law already prohibits the use of taxpayer funds to subsidize or provide abortions. But Trump’s rules, which were upheld in a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week, also prohibit taxpayer-funded clinics from referring low-income women to terminate their pregnancies.

The proposed $3 million allocation represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Human Service department’s proposed spending. 

And despite the tight restrictions on its use, it is certain to be one of the first items on the chopping block as the Republican-controlled General Assembly begins to amend budget proposals from the Democratic Wolf administration. 

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, expressed skepticism that the state could ensure that the public dollars would remain separate from Planned Parenthood’s abortion services. 

She argued that state grant funds are not always used for their intended purposes. She pointed as an example to a state tax credit program that did not deliver on its promise to expand rural broadband access, according to an Independent Fiscal Office report recently summarized by Spotlight PA. 

Phillips-Hill concluded by saying it would be “incredibly difficult to support” the $3 million allocation to Planned Parenthood, especially given the Wolf administration’s proposal to cut a school safety grant fund by $45 million next year. 

Wolf has defended the proposed cut to the school safety fund by saying that schools ought to prioritize mental health resources over the security and surveillance equipment that the grants often fund

Wolf’s proposal to phase out the security grants has met resistance from the Republicans since the governor presented his 2020-2021 budget proposal earlier this month. Republican lawmakers have sought to augment funding for the school safety program since its creation in 2018.