News Law and Policy

Pennsylvania Officials Still Won’t Cut Off Anti-Choice Group Misusing Taxpayer Money

Nicole Knight

Pennsylvania has for years funneled tax dollars earmarked for low-income families to Real Alternatives, an anti-choice organization.

For decades, the anti-choice nonprofit Real Alternatives abused a multi-million dollar Pennsylvania state grant by spending a cut of the money on a network of crisis pregnancy centers, or fake clinics, and anti-choice activities outside the state.

Pennsylvania’s auditor general on Tuesday said the state was to blame for shoddy oversight of Real Alternatives, announcing it was time to go after the misspent money. But Auditor General Eugene DePasquale stopped short of recommending the state end Real Alternative’s $30.2 million grant.

“We will never know how much money was taken out of the commonwealth nor how many Pennsylvania women and children may have been affected because this company channeled our tax dollars to other states,” DePasquale said in a press conference, announcing a release of a new audit of Real Alternatives. “But we need to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again.”

The audit reveals a pattern of misspending totaling an estimated $497,368 between 2012 and 2015—but which could stretch back further. Real Alternatives has held state contracts for 20 years.

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Real Alternatives said in a statement that it “continues to be shocked by the misrepresentation” of its agreement with Pennsylvania, the Incline reports.

Asked why the state hasn’t ended Real Alternatives’ contract, Susan Woods, press secretary with the Department of Auditor General, told Rewire the state Department of Human Services considers Real Alternatives “the only viable vendor for this type of service.” The state has hired Real Alternatives to “provide counseling, referral, and other specified services for alternatives to abortion.”

DePasquale finds that “hard to believe, but that’s their answer on that,” Wood continued. “That is the administration’s and the Department of Human Services’ decision. Putting things out to open bid is always the wise thing to do. But, DHS seems to believe this is the only provider that fills this need.”

While DePasquale called Real Alternatives’ misspending “egregious,” the new 24-page audit fails to recommend ending funding to the anti-choice nonprofit.

For years, Pennsylvania has funneled tax dollars earmarked for low-income families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, or welfare, to Real Alternatives. How Real Alternatives spends that money is an ongoing question. A 2016 Rewire investigation found 81.5 percent of the money went to anti-abortion classes and counseling, rather than goods like diapers, baby clothes, and formula.

Pennsylvania has audited Real Alternatives at least twice and uncovered wrongdoing. But the state Department of Human Services only a few months ago extended Real Alternatives’ $30.2 million grant.

The extension comes after that same agency, DHS, audited Real Alternatives last year and discovered the anti-choice organization was siphoning off a 3 percent “Program Development and Advancement Fee.”

When DHS auditors asked for records showing how Real Alternatives had spent tax dollars, the anti-choice nonprofit sued. In court documents, Real Alternatives admitted that it charges subcontractors a 3 percent fee to “promote the development and expansion of Real Alternatives initiatives … both locally and nationally,” according to a statement from DePasquale. The Pennsylvania grant does not allow Real Alternatives to take a 3 percent cut to spend how it likes.

DePasquale tweeted that he found it “mind-boggling” that Real Alternatives would “so blatantly violate grant terms.”

In response to this month’s audit, DHS officials, who issued the grant to Real Alternatives, did not say they would end the organization’s funding. The agency said in a letter to the auditor general that it was working on stricter grant language to stop Real Alternatives from siphoning off tax dollars.

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