Trafficking Funding Denial Questioned
Special Report - November 16, 2011
More than two-dozen members of the U.S. Senate are objecting to the Administration’s recent decision to discontinue its relationship with a Catholic group that provides services and help to victims of human trafficking. In a letter sent to United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, 27 U.S. Senators expressed “deep concerns” with the decision to deny the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) application for funds as part of the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program. The senators also requested “detailed information on how HHS graded applicants for the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program for the 2011 grant cycle, and an explanation for why [HHS] did not select such a well-qualified organization.” They went on to request “A list of all grant applicants, their applications, reviewers’ comments for each application during the objective review, and the points each application received from reviewers,” as well as “[a]ll HHS documents and communications” related to the creation and publication of the funding solicitation by November 18th. A similar letter was sent by a group of Representatives. The USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services program has also filed a Freedom of Information Request to obtain similar information related to the decision-making process for awarding the grants.
HHS had been funding the USCCBs’s program, which “provide[s] food, housing, clothing, medical services, counseling, legal assistance, education, and employment services to victims of human trafficking in over 44 states,” since 2006. The $4.5 million grant for the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program was redirected to three other groups this yearHeartland Human Care Services, Tapestri, and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In their letter, the Senators referenced HHS’s “new preference for grantees that would offer ‘the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care,’ representing favorability toward organizations that refer victims for abortion services.” As a religious organization, the USCCB “does not provide abortion referrals,” and refuses to refer victims of trafficking whom they served for contraceptives or abortion.
On November 11th, theWashington Post reported that, “Senior HHS officials awarded the new grants to the bishops’ competitors despite a recommendation from career staffers that the Catholic group be funded based on scores by an independent review board, according to federal officials and internal department documents.”
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