PA Witholding Some Funds from “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” Amid Audit & Lawsuit

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services will withhold certain payments to Real Alternatives, a chain of so-called crisis pregnancy centers based in Pennsylvania. The decision is the latest development in what has become an ongoing battle between Pennsylvania authorities and the organization, which receives millions of taxpayer dollars.

Last September, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale initiated a routine audit of Real Alternatives after the Department of Human Services, which issues the funding, could not account for how all of the grant money is spent.

Real Alternatives currently has a $30.2 million five-year DHS grant, which expires June 30, 2017.

From a press release announcing the audit: A recent DHS audit revealed that Real Alternatives deducts a three percent fee from reimbursements to its service providers. Real Alternatives refused to provide information to allow DHS auditors to review reimbursements from the three percent fee or to provide any details on how the funds from the fee are used.

In March, Real Alternatives sued the Auditor General for auditing them.

“I am not alleging that the money is being used for illegal activities, but as Pennsylvania’s chief fiscal watchdog I demand to know how and where our tax money is being spent,” DePasquale said in a statement responding to the lawsuit. “Thirty million is a lot of tax dollars, I want to ensure 100 percent of those funds are providing services to pregnant women and their families in Pennsylvania as the grant agreement requires.”

Now, Pennsylvania DHS has decided to withhold some of the grant funds in response to the organization’s “continuing refusal” to allow public review of how it uses 3 percent of its $30.2 million state grant.

“I applaud the decision by the Department of Human Services to refuse to pay 3 percent of the grant which is equal to the amount which Real Alternatives has continually blocked from review by both my department and DHS,” DePasquale said. “I believe DHS is well within its right to withhold payment of this 3 percent ‘program development and advancement fee’ that Real Alternatives withholds from its providers at least until such time this group comes clean and opens up their books for review.”

Pennsylvania has been using state funds to finance crisis pregnancy centers for two decades. We are also one of a handful of states that divert Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds—safety-net funds for low-income families in need—to fund crisis pregnancy centers.

Meanwhile, while the state struggles to assess how Real Alternatives is spending its grant money, the Pennsylvania Legislature is preparing to vote on Senate Bill 300. SB300 is a bill that would effectively defund Planned Parenthood by withholding reimbursements for low-income Pennsylvanians who rely on Planned Parenthood for family planning and related preventative care services.

The defunding bill, Senate Bill 300, was just scheduled for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 26.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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