Restoring money to New Jersey women's health centers appears unlikely

Posted: August 04, 2010

TRENTON - As two Democratic state lawmakers initiated a campaign to override the governor's veto of $7.5 million for family-planning health centers, six Republican state senators who previously voted to restore the funding reversed course, most likely ending any hopes of restoring the money.

Democrats would need at least four Republican votes for an override in the Senate, which now appears unlikely.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) and Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D., Middlesex) said Tuesday that they intended to continue to pressure the Republicans.

"There is no longer the time or room for legislators who support this bill in theory, but fear political consequences, to sit back and hope someone else will shepherd this funding through," Weinberg said. "We need to corral every vote possible to ensure that the health of low-income women throughout this state is not a casualty of political ideologies."

After Christie, citing fiscal constraints, eliminated state aid to the health centers in his first budget, the Legislature restored the $7.5 million. The governor vetoed the restoration, again citing a lack of funding and adding that the same services were available through clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

The Senate approved the restoration with enough votes to override a veto, but six of the seven Republicans who voted in favor say they now believe the money simply is not available. A seventh, Sen. Jennifer Beck of Monmouth County, is traveling overseas and was unavailable for comment.

In a joint statement the six Republicans, Diane Allen (Burlington), Kip Bateman (Somerset), Andrew Ciesla (Ocean), Chris Connors (Ocean), Sean Kean (Monmouth), and Robert Singer (Ocean), said that women's health is a "vital priority."

But they said the treasurer had convinced them that a transfer of money from the state prescription fund, which the Democrats say is overfunded, would put the account in jeopardy and "risk access to needed medicines for women and children."

The six Republicans said in the statement that if a veto-override vote is held, they "will vote to support maintaining a balanced budget and ensure there is continued access to prescription medicines for families."

Weinberg and Stender argue Christie's opposition is ideological and not fiscal, as he has said. They noted that the legislation specifically prohibits any state dollars from funding abortions, which the Republican governor opposes. And the lawmakers say the administration has found plenty of additional funding in the budget when it suited its needs, such as to preserve the Bergen County blue laws, which forbid most shopping on Sundays.

Democrats also point out the bill to restore the funding would have allowed the state to receive $9 in matching federal funds for every $1 spent by the state.

"Absent this funding, women without the means to afford health care will now be forced to forgo essential prevention measures to keep them healthy, instead utilizing hospital emergency rooms when they become sick," Stender said. "The most frustrating part is that it did not have to come to this, but we still have an opportunity to avoid this scenario."


Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.

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