Did Palin Slash Funds Supporting Teen Mothers?

Dr. Warren Throckmorton | Grove City College | Friday, September 05, 2008

Did Palin Slash Funds Supporting Teen Mothers?

September 5, 2008

Contrary to a widely circulated report in Tuesday's Washington Post, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, did not slash funding for a program supporting teen mothers.

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane reported that “Palin Slashed Funding for Teen Moms.” The far-left Huffington Post repeated the story the next day, and it was off and running. To support this contention, Kane produced the 2008 Alaska budget, along with Governor Palin’s line-item reductions. Kane said, “Palin reduced funding for Covenant House Alaska by more than 20 percent, cutting funds from $5 million to $3.9 million.” Sounds like a reduction, right?

Not so. Here’s the background.

Covenant House Alaska is a faith-based, not-for-profit agency which provides a variety of services to troubled teens, including a home for teen moms. Although the work with adolescent mothers is only one component of Covenant's services, Kane focused on this particular aspect of its work. His focus was not a surprise, given the revelation that Governor Palin’s teen daughter is five months pregnant. Covenant House requested additional state funding to help expand housing capacity. The legislature agreed that expansion was a worthy objective and allocated the substantial sum of $5 million in the proposed budget.

In Alaska, the governor is allowed to reduce budget allocations in the service of sound management and fiscal accountability. It is true that Mrs. Palin trimmed the proposed $5 million allocation to $3.9 million. However, the Washington Post did not tell readers that the state of Alaska's 2008 allocation was three times more than Covenant House Alaska received from all government grants in 2007. According to records posted on the Covenant House Alaska website, the organization received just over $1.3 million dollars from grants in 2007 and nearly $1.2 million in 2006. Even with the reductions, Governor Palin signed a budget which provided a massive influx of support for troubled teens.

Thus, the Post report is misleading on three counts. One, the funding in question went to an organization which provides many different services, including work with teen mothers. There was no funding at issue exclusively earmarked for pregnant teens. No funds directly allocated to teen moms were slashed.

Two, the report gives the impression that the Governor reduced prior state funding levels, when, in fact, the Palin-approved budget allowed a massive expansion of funding for this faith-based organization. The organization’s total revenue for 2007, from all sources, was just over $3 million. Thus, the amount approved by Palin and the Alaska legislature was a huge increase. The money given to Covenant House cannot be considered a cut in funding; it was a raise, even if the raise was not as great as originally contemplated by the legislature.

Three, Covenant House Alaska experienced no cut in operating expenses as the result of the Palin budget. The center’s executive director, Deirdre Cronin, explained it this way in a September 4 statement, which she provided directly to me:

"Despite some press reports to the contrary, our operating budget was not reduced. Our $3.9 million appropriation is directed toward a multi-year capital project and it is our understanding that the state simply opted to phase in its support for this project over several years, rather than all at once in the current budget year."

Viewed within the context of prior expenditures, it becomes clear that Governor Palin increased funding for social services which benefit kids, not “slashed” them as the Post reported. The increase is the beginning of a multi-year investment in help for vulnerable teens. A prudent course, the state will monitor the progress of Covenant House and allocate funds over time. In this way, Palin demonstrated she is not afraid to exercise fiscal caution, even when that decision involves those of similar ideology. On the organization’s website, Covenant House makes a clear religious appeal saying:

"Just as Christ in His humanity is the visible sign of God’s presence among His people, so our efforts together in the covenant community are a visible sign that effects the presence of God, working through the Holy Spirit among ourselves and our kids."

Taking everything into account, a dramatically different picture of Governor Palin’s actions comes into focus. Executive Director Cronin sees it differently than Mr. Kane, saying, “We are grateful for the support we have received from Governor Sarah Palin, the Alaska legislature and our Congressional delegation over the years.”

In Washington, D.C., sometimes more is less. In Alaska, more is still more.

Warren Throckmorton, PhD is an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College and fellow for psychology and public policy with the Center for Vision & Values. He can be reached via his blog, http://www.wthrockmorton.com/.