When a newly created nonprofit organization won a state contract to administer millions of dollars to crisis-ridden pregnancy centers in Oklahoma as part of a lawmakers’ plan to reduce abortion by encouraging women to carry their pregnancies to term, it is committed to helping 9,300 women in less than 16 months.
But records show only 524 women were served, as the organization spent twice as much on its own administrative costs and salaries as it did on supporting pregnancy centers in the statewide anti-abortion crisis.
The Childbirth Choice Act was created by Republican lawmakers to support organizations across the state that provide adoption services, counseling and other social services to pregnant women who may be considering an abortion.
The program was set up for a non-profit organization to receive issuance funds for pregnancy centers and then be reimbursed by the state.
State audit shows Pregnancy Care Network falls far short of meeting goals
In 2020, the Oklahoma Pregnancy Care Network, an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit, won the contract with the state health department and said it was willing to pay $1.6 million. dollars in less than two years, which would help approximately 9,300 women.
But the network failed to meet 6% of that projection, according to an internal state health department audit, which The Oklahoman obtained via an Open Records request.
“The level of performance to date is concerning, as well as the limited number of women actually served,” the audit said. “(OPCN) appears to be seriously underperforming and is not using funds for this contract in the manner identified in the contract or legislation that created this funding.”
Since 2020, the network has been paid $428,073 by the state but only sent $122,981 to pregnancy centers, according to state purchase orders reviewed by The Oklahoman.
The nonprofit’s executive director, Madeline Craig, said she was unaware of the details of the state health department audit when contacted by The Oklahoman.
“OPCN was not aware of any issues until you notified of the audit,” Craig wrote in an emailed statement. “OPCN will follow up with OSDH to see if any further changes are needed.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt: ‘We want to be the #1 state in supporting crisis pregnancies’
The Republican-controlled state legislature has introduced several bills this year that would ban nearly all abortion procedures, including one signed into law Wednesday that is the toughest anti-abortion law in the nation.
As abortion procedures are reduced, some officials have said there is a need to increase support services for pregnant women.
“We want to be the first state to support crisis pregnancies,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said this week. “We want to love the mother, we want to love the child, we want to have adoption services.”
Lawmakers allocated $3 million to the Choosing Childbirth program last year and have proposed spending an additional $3 million in the next fiscal year, even though the head of the state Senate acknowledged that most money had not been spent.
“It’s not going as fast as I would like, and I’ve spoken to (Health) Commissioner (Keith) Reed and his team about it,” said Pro Tem Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma. City, who spoke to reporters. Last week. “We are committed to trying to get that money flowing.”
Nearly $7 million has been allocated to the program over the past two years, but the majority of funds remain with the state health department.
Having to use an organization as a type of intermediary to disburse funds “has created a bottleneck,” according to a statement sent by the Department of Health to The Oklahoman.
“Our internal audit findings showed there was room for improvement to get Birth Choice Act dollars to those who need them most – Oklahoma mothers” , the agency said. “The OSDH continues to work closely with the OPCN to ensure that appropriate and impactful reimbursements are made in a timely manner to our essential service providers.”
More money is spent on salaries than on pregnancy centers
The Oklahoma Pregnancy Care Network filed its documents with the Secretary of State and the Internal Revenue Service in early 2020. Less than three months later, it had been awarded a contract with the state health department to administer Birth Choice Act funds.
“Women going through a crisis or a difficult pregnancy need support, not judgment or political persuasion,” the network said in its statewide application. “OPCN will identify and contract with compassionate and customer-centric suppliers.”
The organization said it was prepared to spend state money in “every region of the state,” working with no less than 25 different service providers.
In 2021, only four organizations received funding — Hope Outreach Parenting Ministry, Legacy Parenting Center, Lilyfield Inc. and Willow Pregnancy Support, according to summary financial reports submitted to the state.
The majority of funds spent by the network went to its own administrative costs, including the $93,375 annual salary of Craig, the executive director, according to network documents submitted to the state health department.
Craig blamed the state health department for “fatal flaws” in her contract that weren’t fixed until 2021, though she didn’t specify what those issues were.
While the Department of Health’s internal audit is dated April 20, 2022, Craig said the network “now provides more than $80,000 per month to providers serving customers in more than 20 counties across Oklahoma and is experiencing exponential growth,” according to a statement sent to The Oklahoman.
The state health department said it received a bill for $77,000 from the network earlier this month, which is currently undergoing the normal review process.
Bill designed to ‘remove the third party’ died in Legislative Assembly
As Oklahoma lawmakers propose tough anti-abortion laws and the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to allow these new laws into effect, abortion opponents say there will be more pregnant women who will need support.
“The need will probably be greater, but I’m ready, we’re ready,” said Barbara Chishko, executive director of Willow Pregnancy Support, an organization that helps pregnant women with free pregnancy tests and medical care, referrals adoption and housing.
Willow, who is about to complete a new building in south Oklahoma City that will provide housing for pregnant women in a family setting, received $8,126 last year through the Oklahoma Pregnancy Care Network , according to state records.
Chishko acknowledged that the money doesn’t seem to be flowing as fast as it should, but she hopes the state will find a way to streamline the process. She also said that one of the challenges of the program is that it only funds specific services and not operational costs, such as utilities or maintenance.
“I still see it as if we get some extra money so that’s great, it’s to do more, if not, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing,” Chishko said.
Legislative leaders drafted a bill this year that would allow the state health department to contract directly with centers like Willow, instead of having to move funds through the state’s pregnancy care network. Oklahoma.
“It would eliminate the third,” Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said when the bill was introduced last month at a House committee meeting.
Although the bill was approved by the Senate, it was not heard in the House.
Minority House Leader Emily Virgin said she would prefer to see the state use Birth Choice Act funds for “proven” programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“As we can see, it wasn’t really something that was going to help women or make a difference, it was more about the legislature spending money and being able to say they had done something” , Virgin, D-Norman, told The Oklahoman “None of the promises they made are coming to fruition.”