Orange County supervisors agreed Tuesday to restore funding to Planned Parenthood for sex education while at the same time adopting new policies to restrict funds for health education programs in the future.
In March, supervisors said they could not tolerate funding an organization that performs abortions and voted unanimously to suspend a grant worth nearly $300,000 in tobacco settlement revenue, money earmarked for sex education.
Following the advice of county lawyers, supervisors Tuesday reinstated the grant, with Supervisor John Moorlach, who first brought up the issue, and Supervisor Bill Campbell voting no.
Supervisors then voted unanimously for the county Health Care Agency to adopt policies restricting the use of tobacco settlement revenue at community clinics to direct health services, rather than health education.
Although the new policies would affect family planning classes, they are broad enough to affect a wide array of other health programs -- including health classes, pamphlets and group education programs, as well as translation services.
In addition to eliminating health education, the new rules say services can't be provided in the same place where abortions are performed.
"Clearly this is an effort to target Planned Parenthood," said Jon Dunn, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Orange and San Bernardino Counties, adding later that limiting health education funding would be harmful to the county.
"It's much more costly to treat people once they have a symptom than to provide them with the information they need to prevent an infection from occurring," he said.
David Riley, interim director for the county healthcare agency, said his office recommended the new policies because there is a significant unmet need for primary medical, dental and mental health care among the county's uninsured.
"Health education certainly is an important service," he said, "but with the limited amount of funding available," the funding should go to direct clinic care.
In the coming year, the county will dole out nearly $37 million in tobacco settlement revenue to a variety of service providers -- including programs for seniors, emergency medical services, hospitals, tobacco prevention and the Sheriff's Department, according to staff reports. More than $7 million is expected to go to community clinics. Currently, less than 10% of such community clinic funds go to health education programs, Riley said.
In explaining his vote to adopt the new policies, Moorlach, who in the March meeting said he personally had a problem with funding an organization that provides abortion services, said the vote was simply about the economics of prioritizing direct healthcare over education.
"In this economic climate, I'm just looking at priorities," he said.
Supervisor Chris Norby said such funding of health education programs is unnecessary because access to the information is already available in schools and elsewhere.
"With the Internet and the Yellow Pages, it's very easy to find a lot of these options that people have without the board funding this kind of educational outreach," Norby said.
Planned Parenthood organizers were undeterred by the decision and vowed to submit a grant proposal for next year's tobacco settlement revenue to fund breast care services.