AUSTIN — Through the Texas Women’s Health Program, some 130,000 uninsured, low-income women ages 18 to 44 are provided with family planning exams, basic essential health screenings and birth control through Medicaid funding that is 90 percent federal and 10 percent state.
On March 31, the program will lose its federal funding if the state of Texas and the federal government don’t work out related issues that have become heavily politicized.
Federal and state law currently prohibit the funding of abortion services except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment, but the state of Texas recently applied for a waiver of federal rules in hopes of operating the Women’s Health Program in a way that complies with a state law passed last year that eliminates abortion providers and their affiliates as qualified providers of the other women’s health services.
But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not express any intention to grant a waiver that would allow the state to pick and choose among qualified providers. Gov. Rick Perry reacted, saying it is his intent to protect women’s health but not to allow the Obama administration to violate “states’ rights” by blocking the enforcement of a Texas law. And Perry said the Texas Health and Human Services Commission “cannot ignore state law and allow taxpayer funds to be awarded to entities that perform or promote elective abortions or affiliate with entities that perform or promote elective abortions.” Perry mentioned Planned Parenthood in his statement.
State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, in a March 6 news release responded to Perry’s statements, saying nearly half of the program’s clients receive services through Planned Parenthood, an organization that does not provide abortions at Women’s Health Program clinics.
On March 9, the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin released recommendations to the federal government and to the state. Here are excerpts:
• “The federal government should not flinch from strict enforcement of the federal law guaranteeing women freedom of choice in selecting their providers. If the state implements its rule excluding Planned Parenthood, the federal government should end its participation in the Women’s Health Program immediately.”
• “The state should return to the old rules for the Women’s Health Program, which ensured that no program dollars subsidized abortion directly or indirectly, but did not bar Planned Parenthood from participating in the program. Alternatively, the state should delay implementation of its new rule while it turns to the courts to establish its authority to exclude Planned Parenthood. If it wins its case, then it can implement its rule excluding Planned Parenthood without jeopardizing federal funding. If it loses its case, then the Legislature can decide whether it wishes to end the program or continue the program without federal funding.”
DPS issues travel caution
The Texas Department of Public Safety on March 6 urged students on spring break not to travel to Mexico.
“Drug cartel violence and other criminal activity represent a significant safety threat, even in some resort areas,” said DPS chief Steve McCraw, who added, “The situation in Mexico today is significantly different than it was just a decade ago.”
The DPS urged U.S. citizens living or traveling in Mexico to register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/.
In other news, on March 8, the DPS announced the increase of Texas Highway Patrol troopers on roadways during the spring break holiday period, March 10 to March 18.
According to an agency news release, last year during the spring break enforcement period, the DPS made 1266 DWI arrests, including 380 by troopers who were patrolling as a result of additional funding.
Jobless rate drops again
The Texas Workforce Commission on March 9 announced the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 7.3 percent in January, down from 7.4 percent in December. The 7.3 percent is Texas’ lowest unemployment rate since April 2009. By contrast, in January 2011, the state’s unemployment rate was 8.1 percent. The U.S. Department of Labor reported the national unemployment rate stood at 8.3 percent in January and February of the current year.
Sales tax revenue increases
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on March 7 announced state sales tax revenue collections in February were $2.01 billion, up 14.8 percent compared to February 2011.
And, Combs said, March local sales tax allocations totaling $473.6 million will be sent to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts. The amount is 9.3 percent greater than allocations sent out in March 2011.