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Weinberg-Vitale-Greenstein Legislation To Restore Family Planning Funds Approved In Senate

While Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Union, looks on, Senator Loretta Weinberg, B-Bergen, speaks at a news conference at the Statehouse urging Governor Christie to act on her legislation to restore funding for family planning and women’s health services which was cut in the FY 2011 Budget.

Measure Would Restore Nearly $7.5 Million Cut Out of Budget Two Years Ago for Women’s Health Programs

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale, and Senator Linda Greenstein which would restore nearly $7.5 million in funds for family planning services and women’s health programs was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 27-10.

“Two years ago, when the Governor defunded women’s health care programs, he made it harder for women in New Jersey to access basic health services such as cancer screening, AIDS and STD testing, and birth control,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “At the time that the Governor defunded these programs, he claimed fiscal concerns, but every attempt we’ve made to restore funds using responsible budgetary alternatives has been dismissed. Hopefully, the Governor will recognize that this issue isn’t going away quietly, and he’ll work with us to restore funding for these vital programs.”

The bill, S-788, would restore $7.453 million for family planning services and women’s health programs that was cut as part of the FY 2011 State Budget. The bill would also require the State to file the necessary documents for a State Medicaid Plan Amendment with the federal government to expand coverage for family planning services under the Medicaid program for individuals with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($21,660 for a family of four). The Medicaid language change would make New Jersey eligible for a 9-to-1 federal match on funds to support family planning for Medicaid-eligible women. The funding for this bill would come from the FY 2012 Budget surplus, which is estimated to be around $524 million.

“This is about getting women – and men – access to life-saving testing and treatment, and to give them the freedom to choose if and when they want to have a family,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “While we all support responsible budgeting, $7.5 million out of a more than $500 million surplus is not shirking our commitment to fiscal responsibility, and in the end, will make a difference in the lives of men and women throughout our State. This bill will ensure that access to basic health care and family planning services is available when it is needed most.”

In the FY 2011 State Budget, family planning grants were eliminated for the first time in many years, as a result of what the Governor identified as a lack of funds. Despite efforts made by Senators Weinberg, Vitale and Greenstein, as well as others, to identify alternative sources of funding for the family planning programs in each of the last two budget cycles, the Governor has continued to maintain his objection to State funds for family planning and women’s health programs. As a direct result of defunding, Planned Parenthood closed six women’s health centers and saw 4,000 fewer patients in the first quarter of FY 2011.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen the very real effects of the Governor’s decision to defund women’s health care, and it’s past time to reverse course and open up access to basic health care and family planning services for women,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “If the Governor is being honest that his objection to family planning funds is based on financial – and not political – concerns, he’ll give our proposal very serious consideration. This bill is about undoing an egregious cut which has resulted in fewer women being able to access the services they need.”

Family planning services include information and counseling on reproductive choices and birth control methods; comprehensive physicals and health screenings; pelvic and breast exams; pregnancy testing; the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases; AIDS testing and counseling; prenatal substance abuse programs, and other health services. State funds would not be used to pay for abortions under this bill.

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration, where it is scheduled for a vote later today.