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USCCB files freedom-of-information request over HHS grant denial

Catholic World News - November 09, 2011

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to discover why the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declined to renew a grant to aid victims of human trafficking.

The Washington Post reported that the leadership of the US Department of Health and Human Services, in declining to renew the grant to the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services, overruled its own staff members.

“I have been informed that six organizations applied for anti-trafficking grants from HHS’s Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR),” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the USCCB’s director of media relations. “Four scored so low they did not make the cutoff when evaluated by an independent review board. Two applicants scored well. Heartland Human Care Services scored highest and MRS came in second, very close to Heartland, even after losing points for not being willing to refer for contraceptives and abortions.”

Sister Walsh continued:

Yet, after finagling by Sharon Parrott, one of three politically-appointed counselors to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, ORR awarded $4.5 million, spread across Heartland, which earned the award, and United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and Tapestri, groups that hadn’t made the grade according to the independent review board.

ORR said that in the 2011 anti-trafficking contracts, it would favor proposals where the recipient would refer for the full range of legally permissible obstetric and gynecological services, a code for contraceptives, abortion and sterilization. It did not say it would simply exclude applicants on this basis. Even with this handicapped status, USCCB beat out USCRI and Tapestri – until apparently the rules changed …

In the hierarchy of needs for trafficking victims, it would seem that safety, food, shelter, legal support and medical care have priority. Do trafficking victims who fear that their traffickers will kill them for escaping think “contraceptives first”? Is it the concern of the men, who as labor-trafficking victims comprised about two-thirds of the survivors who were helped by the previous anti-trafficking grant that MRS held for more than five years?

“HHS’s manipulation was not harmless,” she added. “The new grants were to go only to programs that would be up and operating within ten days of the date of the awards. Instead, 450 enrolled victims of trafficking and their families were left without services when the new awardees were not ready to roll on time.”

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