Biden administration proposes rule change that would eliminate access to TANF by pregnancy resource centers

By Dave Andrusko

It was inevitable. The Biden administration will do anything to cut funds to the Pregnancy Resource Centers and that heartless campaign would spark a backlash.

State have poured money into programs that help low-income families with children to make their way toward what Stephanie Armour calls “financial self-sufficiency.” The pool of money is around $16.5 billion.

“To help reach that goal, grants must accomplish specific purposes such as promoting job training and marriage, preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and encouraging two-parent families.”

You would think—but of course you would be wrong—that pregnancy help centers are an ideal candidate to take part in a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. “The federal assistance program was launched in 1997, replacing Aid to Families With Dependent Children, and it grants states some flexibility in how they operate and provide support to help low-income families,” according to Armour.

Well, the heart-of-coal Biden administration says, according to a senior administration official, that “Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, is merely clarifying that pregnancy counseling and other programs that apply only after someone is pregnant don’t prevent and reduce pregnancies as required by federal law,” Armour writes.

We’re told that “The proposed rule wouldn’t ban the use of all of the grant funds for crisis pregnancy centers and some supportive services, such as providing diapers to expectant mothers, might be allowable, the official said. The proposed rule also doesn’t stop states from using their own funds for crisis pregnancy facilities.”

Pennsylvania State Rep. Kate Klunk sees another motive behind the change: partisan politics. “I see this as political, as a way to curry favor with pro-choice women heading into an election,” Klunk said. The work of Pregnancy Help Centers is “about helping moms, dads and babies.”

“Conservative lawmakers and antiabortion groups said that would imperil some pregnancy resource centers,” Armour explained. “Specifically, they fear it will halt federal taxpayer funding to centers in Missouri, Louisiana and Indiana, three states that provide the centers with TANF funds. Pennsylvania had also done so, but halted such funding as of the end of 2023 after abortion-rights groups advocated for the change.”

It helped that the Pennsylvania governor is passionately pro-abortion.

Supposedly the battle lines are drawn over whether “tax dollars should flow to pregnancy resource centers that counsel women against abortions.”

For example, a senior HHS official told Armour “The agency said in the proposed rule that programs that solely or primarily provide pregnancy counseling to women after they become pregnant likely don’t meet TANF goals ‘because the connection to preventing and reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies is tenuous or nonexistent.’”

Really? Directors of some of the pregnancy centers “said they discuss with clients how to prevent future unwanted pregnancies, which they argue fits the mission of the TANF program.”  But that merely scratches the surface of all that Pregnancy Help Centers do.

In a December 1 comment letter, led by Sen Cindy Hyde-Smith and Congressman Chris Smith, they wrote that the rule change undermines the TANF program

by targeting pregnancy centers and alternatives to abortion programs and threatening to strip them of millions of dollars of funding, depriving pregnant women in need of compassionate assistance for themselves and their unborn babies.  …

Alternatives to abortion programs, and the pregnancy centers they support, provide services that fulfill all four purposes of TANF, but the proposed rule inaccurately describes these programs as limited to “only or primarily provid[ing] pregnancy counseling to women only after they become pregnant” and are only relevant for preventing and reducing out of wedlock pregnancy. On the contrary, alternatives to abortion programs offer services and material assistance to pregnant women and their families, which may include parenting classes, training in life skills, sexual risk avoidance education, promoting responsible paternity, promoting marriage, care coordination, housing and support services through maternity homes, assistance with job searching, reducing dependence on government and much more. HHS’ unfair characterization of these lifeaffirming programs suggests that they would not be considered allowable uses of TANF funds, regardless of a State’s ability to provide justification that they meet one or more of TANF’s statutory purposes.

The mere fact pregnancy centers perform some activities that are outside the scope of TANF’s third purpose does not disqualify them from receiving TANF funds. HHS does not cite any evidence that pregnancy centers or others receiving TANF funding under alternatives to abortion programs are unlawfully using Federal funds for non-TANF purposes. This suggests HHS is targeting pregnancy centers for their pro-life mission rather than for any kind of misuse of Federal funds.

The letter concludes

Women deserve better than abortion and should receive support when they choose life for their babies. For decades, pregnancy centers have stood in the gap and generously provided free assistance to women, babies, and families in their moments of need—actions aligned with TANF’s purposes. The Proposed Rule, however, would undermine the TANF program and threaten to strip millions of dollars in support for pregnant women and their unborn babies through pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and alternatives to abortion programs. We urge you to withdraw the Proposed Rule immediately.