CONCORD — The state’s recently finalized budget includes supplemental funding for family-planning services, a win for New Hampshire Title X providers after most withdrew from the federal program in August.
But until the money is available, organizations are relying on limited savings to keep their doors’ open for the over 16,000 New Hampshire Title X patients.
All Planned Parenthood facilities and several other Title X providers exited the program after the Trump administration implemented what critics derided as a “gag rule.” At the time, Planned Parenthood said the rule goes against the fundamental rights they stand for as providers.
Enacted in June, the rule makes clinics ineligible for Title X funding if they provide abortions or referrals for them — except in cases of rape, incest or medical emergency — though Title X money was never used for abortions.
Six of New Hampshire’s nine Title X providers removed themselves from the program, including Keene Health Center, a chapter of Planned Parenthood and Cheshire County’s only Title X provider.
“The notion that the Trump administration is somehow fixing a problem is not realistic, and the changes they’ve made really target people like us,” said Sabrina Dunlap, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire, in August. “What they end up doing is dismantling Title X.”
But the federal health department said in August the new regulations were well-known to providers from the start.
“The new Title X regulations were final at the time the current grant awards were announced. ... Some grantees are now blaming the government for their own actions — having chosen to accept the grant while failing to comply with the regulations that accompany it — and they are abandoning their obligations to serve their patients under the program,” an August news release from the department states.
In lieu of the federal support, Dunlap and other providers urged the state for an increase in their state family-planning funding. In the 2018-19 budget, $1.2 million over two years was provided.
This budget was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu, but in the compromised $12.6 billion budget passed Sept. 25, $3.2 million in family-planning dollars for the next two years was allotted conditionally while the rule is in place.
An additional $700,000 was also included over the biennium to restore the state-supported HIV/STD prevention program, cut in the 2012-13 cycle.
“These funds will help support a variety of women’s health care facilities and services, from cancer screenings to preventative checkups, ensuring women have access to basic health care,” Sununu said in an email Monday.
How and when the funding is allocated will be determined by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, but these details have not yet been relayed to providers.
“We are still reviewing the recently approved state budget and the implications for many department programs,” agency spokesman Jake Leon said in an email Monday.
In the meantime, providers such as Equality Health Center in Concord are relying mostly on their back-up banks.
“We have basically been using all of our emergency funding that we had and had to cut back on staffing a little bit,” Executive Director Dalia Vidunas said.
Though it’s not yet clear how much funding her practice will receive — it was given $90,000, or 11 percent of its annual budget, from Title X funds in 2018 — Vidunas said she remains hopeful.
“I have full faith that DHHS will do the correct thing for the state of New Hampshire,” she said.
In New Hampshire’s five Planned Parenthood facilities, which previously received about $300,000 in Title X funding, Dunlap echoed that this additional state funding is huge. But, the fight to remove the Title X rule isn’t over yet.
“We’re really proud that legislative leadership worked through getting this in the final budget, but the gag rule is in place nationwide,” she said. “It’s terrible for public health, and we believe health care should not depend on what state you live in.”