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Children's Health

Senate Budget Cuts Health & Human Services

By Rose Hoban

This story will be updated periodically today as we analyze the Senate budget.

Late Sunday night, Senate leaders announced their budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on the first day of July. According to Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger, the full appropriations committee will meet Tuesday morning for an hour-long meeting, where comments will be taken on the budget for three minutes at a time.

The Senate’s version of the budget is less kind to many health prevention programs than either the House budget or the one proposed by Governor Bev Perdue. Many programs have completely lost funding, including:

  • The East Carolina University High Risk Maternity Clinic: The clinic received an annual appropriation of $325,000 until last year, when it’s state funding was eliminated, forcing cuts to staff and programs. The House budget allocated $375,000, the Senate allocated $0.
  • Medicaid funding for the 17-Progesterone (17-P), a drug given to pregnant women to prevent preterm births: The Department of Health and Human Services estimated the program required $47,000 to fulfill next year’s needs. The House appropriated the $47,000, the Senate allocated $0.
  • Tobacco use prevention programs: These programs including the Tobacco. Reality. Unfiltered. media campaign and youth smoking prevention program and the Tobacco Quitline, all of which have contributed to historic lows in the number of teens who smoke in North Carolina. Last year, the budget for all tobacco use prevention programs was $17 million in non-recurring funds, the Governor’s budget allocated $10 million, the House budget appropriated $5.3 million, with some additional funds given to counties to spend as they wished. The Senate budget provides nothing for tobacco prevention campaigns.
  • The March of Dimes Preconception Health Program: This program targets women who are thinking about getting pregnant to help them become healthier before they do, encouraging them to eat healthier, lose weight and take folic acid supplements to prevent spina bifida and similar birth defects. The House budget allocated $350,000, the Senate budget allocates $0.

Advocates for public health prevention services were at a loss.

“it’s kind of a mind boggling omission by the Senate to not renew funding for a whole range of infant mortality reduction programs,” said Rob Thompson, head of the NC Covenant for Children, a coalition of groups that advocates for children’s health and services. “I mean, $47,000 for 17-P, a drug that saves infant’s lives and saves the state millions in Medicaid costs down the road.. it’s the ultimate example of penny wise and pound foolish.”

“Hopefully there will be some compromise and some of this will be restored in conference committee,” said Peg O’Connell, a lobbyist for many health programs.

“A more frightening prospect is that the Senate will walk away and say we’ll stick with what we’ve got,” O’Connell said, “that means that all the programs that were non-recurring will die, including tobacco cessation, and the infant mortality programs.”

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