The Reality Behind Real Alternatives
Real Alternatives (RA), a Pennsylvania-based, anti-abortion organization, has been an irresponsible steward of millions in taxpayer dollars since it was founded in 1997. RA manages millions in taxpayer funds to support anti-abortion counseling centers, and was the subject of a scathing report by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in September 2017. However, DePasquale’s audit could only go so far as RA sued the state to keep records on their operations private and won.
Read the press release on Equity Forward’s lawsuit.
Read the May filing with the Commonwealth court.
From 2012-2017, RA was the sole beneficiary of a $32.5 million, five-year grant to administer Pennsylvania’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which funds anti-abortion centers that exist primarily to convince women not to undergo an abortion. They received $83 million since 2003 alone. RA has been responsible for this large sum throughout serious controversy over its management of monies, billing, and proper use of PA taxpayer funds. RA is 99.9% funded by taxpayer monies and has leveraged Pennsylvania dollars to expand to Indiana and Michigan.
However, the Auditor General was only able to go so far in his evaluation of RA. There are several important, outstanding questions about how the organization operates and uses taxpayer funds. Equity Forward is using the legal tools available to pursue answers to these questions under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.
RA refuses to be transparent about its operations, even as RA executives take home inflated salaries compared to other nonprofits receiving Pennsylvania taxpayer funds. This is playing out as lawmakers in Harrisburg are dealing with a budget crisis, deciding how to spend increasingly limited funds on education, social services, public safety, and more. The bottom line is – Pennsylvanians deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent.
Under its most recent contract, Real Alternatives received $32.5 Million in Pennsylvania taxpayer funds from 2012 to 2017 to administer the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which distributes money to anti-abortion counseling centers.
In August 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS), which manages the RA contract, opened up an audit into RA and found that the organization kept 3% of all service provider reimbursements drawn from Commonwealth funds.
DHS then asked the Auditor General to take a look at RA. In September 2017, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale suggested that RA’s practice of skimming a 3% fee from service providers amounts to to “siphoning funds” intended to benefit Pennsylvania women in need and called it an “egregious violation” of the multimillion dollar grant.
Based on publicly available information, Equity Forward estimates that RA has taken $3.19 million of Commonwealth monies through its Program Development & Advancement agreements since July, 1997.
DHS informed Auditor General DePasquale they would recoup the 3% of funds from RA, but have not answered any questions publicly as to the status of that transaction. DHS and Real Alternatives are currently negotiating a contract for 2018 and beyond, but an agreement has not yet been reached.
Real Alternatives & Anti-Abortion Counseling Centers
Real Alternatives is a organization created out of whole cloth by the state in 1997 to administer the “Alternatives to Abortion” program. Its sole purpose is to dole out monies to service providers that offer anti-abortion counseling to women and families.
Increasingly, public dollars are being funneled to anti-abortion centers, often at the detriment of other public services, with insufficient oversight, or with little transparency in contracts.
Through state grants to Real Alternatives, Pennsylvania allocates more public money to anti-abortion counseling centers than almost any state in the nation. These centers—often referred to as “crisis pregnancy centers” or “pregnancy resource centers”—exist for the primary purpose of convincing women not to undergo an abortion.
Equity Forward’s Response
Equity Forward – a new, nonpartisan watchdog project committed to holding accountable groups and individuals that are limiting access to reproductive health care – recently announced a Right to Know lawsuit against the PA Department of Human Services and Real Alternatives. Equity Forward is taking action to inject transparency and accountability into this contentious debate over the taxpayer-funded, anti-abortion organization.
In May 2018, Equity Forward filed a brief with the Commonwealth court.
Equity Forward has been working with the Commonwealth since September 2017 to obtain these records, but both DHS and RA have refused to make public documents available. The records in question deal with RA’s practice of recouping 3% of funds from local service providers that bill back for providing anti-abortion counseling services. Real Alternatives is refusing to turn over documents that are well within the scope of Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law, as the organization is 99.9% funded by taxpayer dollars