Newsweek issues correction on Palin social issues story

Katie Paul at Newsweek alerted me that Newsweek printed a correction to their story claiming that Palin cut funding for teen mothers and the state WIC program. I blogged about it here and had extensive conversations with Alaska officials about the claims. Ms. Paul was also diligent to work with Alaska officials to correct the story once I made her aware of the facts.
Here is the correction (at the end of page 2):

Clarification (updated Sept. 11, 2008) : A number of readers have challenged the assertion in this story that Gov. Palin “cut by 20 percent the funding for Covenant House Alaska, a state-supported program that includes a transitional home where new teenage mothers can spend up to 18 months learning money management and parenting skills.” In fact, she did not cut existing funding, but rather trimmed by $1.1 million funds the Alaska legislature had allocated for Covenant House Alaska this year for a capital construction project. We have also clarified the original wording which implied that Palin had voided the entire Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program. This was not our intent; Palin voided $15,840 the legislature had allocated for a WIC provider.

Now when is the Washington Post going to correct the Sept 2 story that started the teen mom claim?

Did Sarah Palin cut funds to poor women and children?

As I noted yesterday, Newsweek is the latest mainstream media to repeat the inaccurate claim that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin cut funding to teen mothers. In fact, she signed a 2008 budget that dramatically increased funding to a charity which is expanding to serve more needy kids.
In the same article and in the attempt to make a case that Palin is not family friendly, Newsweek writer, Katie Paul, claimed:

Palin has also voided funds for two other similar programs during her tenure as governor. One, the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program, would have provided breast pumps and nutrition support to low-income rural women, for a total cost of $15,480. Another, the Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s student housing and daycare facility project, would have built a childcare facility and family-style housing units for students pursuing vocational education in Anchorage, most of whom come from rural areas.

This post relates to the WIC claim; I plan to examine the Cook Inlet Housing Authority situation in a future post (for now, see the UPDATE at the end of this post).
The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program is a federally funded program which should be a red flag to the Newsweek claim. As worded, the reader could easily come away thinking that Palin voided the entire WIC program which amounted to a cut of $15,480. However, this is far from accurate.
Here is the fiscal year 2009 budget summary for the Alaska WIC program. According to the budget summary:

The Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program is 100% federally funded and provides nutrition services to pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to their fifth birthday. Applicants are screened for health and nutritional risk, and eligible families receive nutrition education, referrals for other support services, and food warrants to purchase specific food items at state-approved WIC vendors. Nutrition services are also available through three additional family nutrition programs that are primarily federally funded. The WIC Farmers Market Nutrition program allows WIC participants to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables at Farmer’s Markets. The Commodity Supplemental Food program provides commodity food boxes to seniors, and to low income pregnant and postpartum women and children up to six years of age as an alternative to WIC. Senior citizens can also receive locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs through the Seniors Farmers Market program.

The program is alive and well in Alaska and is primarily funded via federal allocation although some state moneys supplement the federal funds. So the first impression that somehow Sarah Palin “voided” WIC for poor moms and kids in Alaska is wrong.
In fact, the budgeted WIC allocation increased from FY 2007 to FY 2009. Look at page 4 of the budget summary and you will see an increase from $26,328,100 in FY 2007 to $27,140,800 in FY 2009. According to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson, Wilda Laughlin, actual WIC expenditures increased from fiscal year 2007 to FY 2008. Laughlin quoted a current WIC budget figure for FY 2009 of 27,173,100 which is an increase over the 2009 budget summary I linked to above.
The Budget summary lists accomplishments for WIC in Alaska in FY 2007:

In FY07, WIC provided supplemental foods and nutritional education to over 25,203 women and children each month.
· The WIC program promotes and supports mothers in their breastfeeding efforts. Alaska’s breastfeeding rates are among the highest in the nation and meet the Healthy People 2010 goals. Breastfeeding peer counseling services are being provided at the Providence WIC clinic, through a special USDA grant. In addition, over 5,600 contacts with breastfeeding mothers were provided throughout the state and support offered through distribution of electric breast pumps, lactation consultant visits, phone calls, and classes.
· Provided approximately 85,500 vouchers for the Farmer’s Market Nutrition program (FMNP) to WIC participants for the June 2007 through October 2007 harvest season. The value of redeemed FMNP vouchers for the 2007 season is expected to be $190,000.
· The Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition program (SFMNP) project provided more than 3,300 coupon books with approximately $70,500 in coupons to 25 senior agencies for distribution to income eligible seniors. Seniors may exchange the coupons for fresh produce at 63 locations statewide.
· The Commodity Supplemental Food program provides assistance to 2,200 participants in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

What about the $15,480? According to Laughlin, the figure was actually $15,840 and was requested by a Fairbanks area non-profit for office supplies and literature (UPDATE: Ms. Laughlin wrote to say that Vitamin D supplements and other supplies were requested as well. Here is a link to the budget request so readers can see for themselves what was requested. Keep in mind that other agencies received money for similar requests). Contrary to the Newsweek contention, breast pumps were not a part of the grant request. Ms. Laughlin said, “The request was vetoed by the Governor because it was determined to be a lower funding priority than other requests.” As is clear from the above review, many needy people were served by WIC in Alaska but some requests for funds were turned down. Turning down this grant request does not make Palin’s administration insensitive to needy moms and kids.
Now here is something of interest to me as a former advocate for mental health counselors that no one is reporting. Palin’s administration asked for and received increases in rates for social services providers, including behavioral healthcare providers. If anything, it appears to me that Palin is actually pretty friendly to social programs and services. Contrary to false reports over the past few days, she signed budgets which increased funding for vulnerable teens, WIC, special education and recently enhanced reimbursements to providers of social programs.
UPDATE: 9/10/08
Regarding the Cook Inlet Housing Authority daycare and housing project, the Newsweek story is accurate. This project was approved by the legislature but removed by Palin. Wilda Laughlin, DHSS spokesperson told me, “The Governor vetoed the project because it creates a new facility or program, and the Administration placed a higher priority on deferred maintenance for existing infrastructure.” Other projects were funded and I will be able to add more to this aspect of the matter as I get information. Not every project can be funded and it costs money to maintain existing programs and facilities. It appears existing facilities needed some upgrades.