Anti-abortion group misused funds so badly Texas took its money back

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The Heidi Group, an anti-abortion organization in Texas, was given millions of taxpayer dollars to provide family planning services, but instead it spent the money on things like gift cards.

Texas has led the way in gutting reproductive health care, in large part by yanking money from Planned Parenthood and giving it to anti-choice organizations. That's why it's so surprising to see the state acknowledge that one of their handpicked anti-abortion groups scammed the people of Texas out of over a million dollars — and that the group has to pay it back.

Last week, the state's health inspector general announced it had discovered "serious contractual violations," and the Heidi Group must pay back $1.5 million in "overpayments and prohibited costs." Moreover, the inspector general also said it was "expanding its inquiry" to all of the Heidi Group's contracts going back to 2016, which might mean the group has to pay back even more.

The downfall of the Heidi Group, an anti-choice organization, has been in the works for a while. Several years ago, Texas gave them $1.6 million to provide family planning services to low-income families after the state blocked Planned Parenthood from participating in its health-care program. The state also gave them an additional $5 million in money to distribute to other family planning providers.

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Initially, it was reported that the major problem was that the group then shifted that money to crisis pregnancy centers, but it turns out their violations were much, much bigger than that. Rather than using the money to help low-income families, the Heidi Group spent it on things like fringe benefits for employees, food, gift cards, and retail memberships. One year, they managed to spend 11% of their annual yearly expenditures on the "Heidi Group Cruise." They also spent money on lobbying but failed to report it, and endorsed political candidates, which it is forbidden from doing.

Besides wasting money on things like gift cards, the group never really managed to serve many people. When they got the contract with the state, they said they'd serve nearly 70,000 people yearly. However, by 2017, they'd only managed to serve a few thousand people.

The group was never really equipped to handle tens of thousands of patients or manage government contracts. The Houston Chronicle, which obtained a copy of the inspector general's report, said the original accountant told state investigators "he had no experience with government accounting and had never been made aware of the financial requirements of the state contracts." It isn't even clear if the group offered family planning services before it got the contract from the state.

It isn't just that the group wasted taxpayer money, though that's bad enough. It's that a group like this would never have been, even operating at its projected peak performance, a substitute for Planned Parenthood in Texas. Before 2011, when the state kicked Planned Parenthood off state health care programs, the group served 350,000 people.  Even after that, Planned Parenthood still served 130,000 people in Texas in 2017. Had the Heidi Group managed to serve the 70,000 yearly it promised, that would still only have been 20% of the people served by Planned Parenthood.

There's a lot Texas could have done to ensure robust family planning services for its residents, but instead it wasted millions on a group that was never going to do so.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.