Stephanie Goodman

It’s hard to follow all the bricks being thrown in the fight between Gov. Rick Perry and Planned Parenthood. However, one thing is for sure: Health care for low-income Texas women has taken a backseat to both sides’ political and ideological maneuvering.

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Rick Perry stood at a health clinic near Georgetown yesterday and announced that Texas was ready to begin using state funds to finance women’s health care initiatives that would take the place of those typically provided by the federal government. But, according to The Texas Tribune, later in the day Stephanie Goodman, a Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman, effectively denied the governor’s claims by clarifying that the state-led program would not begin quite yet.

“We’re continuing with the Medicaid program until [the federal government] cuts off the funding or we have a final court decision that wouldn’t allow us to enforce state law,” Goodman told The Texas Tribune.

The law Goodman is referring to was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011, and bars the state from funding organizations that provide abortion services. But the state doesn’t have the resources yet to provide equivalent services to those — unrelated to abortions — now available through Planned Parenthood. Despite Perry’s posturing, the reality is that Texas can’t replace the 90 percent of funding the federal government provides the Texas Women’s Health Program.

And for its part, Planned Parenthood has spent its time in court, asking in September for all the judges at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear its case opposing Texas’ plans after a three-judge panel issued a decision in Planned Parenthood Association, et al. v. Thomas Suehs allowing Texas to block Planned Parenthood and other providers that offer abortions from the program. When the 5th Circuit rejected Planned Parenthood’s request for a full court hearing, the organization went to state court in Austin in late October and persuaded District Judge Amy Clark Meachum to issue a restraining order allowing Planned Parenthood to remain a part of the Texas Women’s Health Program.

There is an alternative route that Planned Parenthood could pursue, according to what UT law professor Stefanie Lindquist, the associate dean for external affairs, told the Daily Texan last September. “It may be possible for the clinics to disassociate from Planned Parenthood in some way to avoid the ‘identifying mark’ but to comply with the [5th Circuit] ruling, they might also have to forgo informing women about their right to an elective abortion,” Lindquist wrote in an email.

Lindquist qualified that suggestion, noting that “The [5th Circuit] panel held that the plaintiff clinics had implicitly conceded that they promote abortion within the meaning of the regulation” and that “… [I]t is hard to tell exactly what options might be available short of litigation.”

With all the bluster and posturing in the court and at press conferences, one notion seems worth underscoring: both sides should compromise and figure out how low-income women in Texas may continue to have the advantage of federal funding for their health care. Meanwhile, Texas politicians, eager to appease a conservative constituency, already have made the point that they don’t like taxpayer dollars going to support abortion clinics. If it takes a name change, so be it. If it takes a governor being less than forthcoming, we’re used to that.

Almost 3 million Americans, some of them students, may no longer be eligible for food stamps as the result of higher restrictions proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

The proposed cuts to food stamps, which subsidize purchasing nutritional food for households that qualify as needy, will set the highest amount of savings most recipients can have at $2,000 in order to receive food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The cuts would also reduce the amount of assistance that a four-member household can receive by $60.

Andre Treiber, spokesperson for the University Democrats, said it was easy for students dedicated to their studies to fall into a position that would require them to rely on food stamps.

“Any cuts to the Food Stamp program are harmful to the poor, and its very easy for students paying their own way for school to find themselves with debt when they are trying to make rent, get their utilities paid and even eat,” Treiber said. “Anything that makes it harder for students to attend college is negative.”

National enrollment in SNAP has swelled to 46 million in the four years, a two-thirds increase since the 2008 financial downturn. The annual costs of the program — now $80 billion — have also doubled as the result of higher enrollment and President Obama’s stimulus, which increased funding to the program, according to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

Texas currently sets the maximum amount of liquid assets to receive food stamps, such as savings in personal bank accounts, at about $5,000. The proposed cuts could affect groups ranging from single parents to college students, said Stephanie Goodman, spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

“There was a large jump in enrollment in SNAP from 2008-2010, although it has since stabilized,” Goodman said. “We don’t usually see these numbers go back to the levels they were at before the jumps, even if the economy improves, when we take into account other factors like normal population growth.”

The number of college students on food stamps was not high compared to other groups, Goodman said, but this was likely because many students are not aware they could qualify through their family.

By cutting food stamps, as well as changing child tax credits and social service block grants, House Republicans claim they want to offset the program’s increasing financial burden and lower the national debt. They also hope to forestall a $55 billion cut for military spending set to take effect Jan. 1, The Associated Press reports.

According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, enrollment in SNAP has risen this month to 118,686 in Travis County from 67,147 in 2008, and the local costs amount to more than $15 million.

The legislation’s author, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has said that food stamps and the social safety net in general are at risk of becoming a “hammock.”

College Republicans president Cassandra Wright said while she agrees that the social security system is problematic, the federal government should not deny people who rely on it for essential financial support.

“There should be definitely room for movement,” Wright said. “There are people who require limited assistance, and for them this will be fine, but there needs to be special leeway for people who are in situations they can’t get themselves out of.”

For college students with more than $2,000 savings that would be denied access, Wright said there was “room.”

“If you’re capable of going to school, then you’re capable of a holding a job, although assistance should still depend on outside circumstances,” Wright said.

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: Students may no longer qualify for food stamps