Birth control program for low-income Tri-Citians gets reprieve

A program providing birth control to nearly 900 low-income Tri-Citians that was set to be eliminated Friday has been spared -- for now.

The Department of Social and Health Services this week reinstated the Community Service Office Family Planning Nurse program through June 30, when a new state budget cycle begins.

“We are very pleased,” said Melissa McGee, a family planning nurse at the Pasco Community Service Office. “I’ve had a lot of clients who were so devastated and didn’t know what they were going to do.”

The more than $1 million program originally was slashed after the department’s Health Care and Recovery Services Administration was told to cut $200 million in the first six months of 2009 to offset the state’s projected $5.7 billion revenue shortfall. DSHS plans to pay for the program for the next five months from its administrative budget, said Jim Stevenson, a DSHS spokesman.

“For the moment I think it’s good news,” Stevenson said, adding that the department hopes the family planning nurse program will be included in the state’s 2009-11 budget.

The program brings in nine federal dollars for every $1 the state contributes to it.

McGee and Planned Parenthood of Central Washington officials said the program provides a convenient way for low-income people to get birth control or emergency contraception -- a visit to the Pasco or Kennewick offices usually takes no more than 30 minutes.

They also said it contributes to fewer unplanned pregnancies paid for with state dollars.

“We are thankful that not only were the voices of supporters and clients heard -- but that the governor and leadership, along with DSHS, understand that it’s common sense to provide family planning services that save over $4 in pregnancy care costs for every dollar spent,” said Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington, the organization’s lobbying arm.

Supporters still have to work to ensure the family planning nurse program is included in the next biennial budget, Planned Parenthood said.