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NJ Dems push to restore family planning money

TRENTON — A group of Democratic women lawmakers in New Jersey are pressing to restore $7.5 million in funding for family planning after failed tries this week by legislative leaders to get Republican Gov. Chris Christie to agree to it.




The funding was not included Christie's $29.4 billion budget as he looked for ways to close an $11 billion deficit.




The lawmakers said Wednesday the move marked "height of fiscal irresponsibility'' because the state could receive $9 in federal aid for every $1 spent in Medicaid funding. Twenty-seven other states receive the funding.


The Department of Human Services has withdrawn the state's application to extend Medicaid coverage for family planning. The federal government reimburses states for the services at the rate of 90 percent.


But in order to qualify for the funding, New Jersey would have to expand Medicaid coverage for family planning to those with incomes of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.


Current law requires recipients to make no more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which in 2009 was $10,830 for a single person.


"A share-the-pain-cut would not have taken the funding down to zero,'' said Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Scotch Plains, one of four assemblywomen sponsoring the measure. "During negotiations it became more clear this was about the governor's ideology.''


Earlier in the week, the governor and Democrats who control the Legislature announced that they had reached a compromise deal to avert a government shutdown.


Democrats would get about $74 million in restorations to programs and services for the poor, disabled, and for needy students in exchange for the votes needed to pass the budget bill. The money comes from items for which more money was budgeted than was actually needed.


Among the restorations are funding for adult welfare, care for the homebound elderly, workshops for the disabled, and tuition scholarships.


Stender said the family planning funding was on the list of things Democrats tried to negotiate back into the budget but that the governor would not bend.


When asked about why family planning money wasn't among the programs restored, Christie, who opposes abortion, said Tuesday he "made the compromises I thought were appropriate.''


"The ones that I didn't make are the ones that I didn't feel were appropriate making,'' he said, declining to elaborate.


Stender said the money would not go toward abortion, but would be used for things like low-cost birth control, breast exams and Pap smears. However, Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions, would be eligible for money to help with non-abortion services. Because of that, those who oppose abortion object to the funding.


"The taxpayers of New Jersey are under no obligation, statutory or otherwise, to fund the radical and failed social agenda of Planned Parenthood,'' said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life. "We urge the Legislature and Gov. Christie to reject any attempt to restore this funding.''


"Investing in family planning services will save the state 20 times what it costs to restore the programs,'' said another sponsor, Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, D-Bridgeton. "From the financial perspective, it is an investment we should make. And from the human perspective, it is an investment we must make.''


The bills are expected to be heard in the Senate and Assembly budget committees this week. If they pass, they could be voted on in both houses on Monday.


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