(CNSNews.com) – Call it the bricks and mortar of Obamacare.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on Thursday that $95 million in funds from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) were distributed through grants to 278 schools and health care providers around the country to be used for infrastructure improvements.
“These new investments will help school-based health centers establish new sites or upgrade their current facilities to keep our children healthy,” Sebelius said. “These new or improved sites will help ensure effective, efficient, and high-quality care.”
"These services can literally be life transforming," Duncan said. "If children aren't healthy, they can't learn." Duncan said the grants will make it "a lot easier for working moms and dads to help get their children the health care they need and deserve." He also said the upgraded school-based clinics will bring communities closer together.
In a conference call with reporters, Sebelius and Duncan both read statements but did not take questions. Journalists were allowed to ask questions of staff members from HHS’s Health Recources and Services Administration (HRSA) after Sebelius and Duncan had exited from the call. The HRSA awarded the $95 million in grants.
HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield told reporters that the funds were strictly for infrastructure or “capital” costs, not operational costs, such as staffing and services. Wakefield also said that applicants had to demonstrate how the funds would help them deliver services to children and other clients.
The list of grantees posted on the HHS Web site shows that aside from schools and school districts, other health care providers receiving grants included the Fresno (Calif.) County Office of Education ($449,072), the University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic ($106,950), the University of Illinois at Chicago/The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois ($479,818), and New York Presbyterian Hospital ($500,000). In all, 278 grant recipients were chosen to receive the $95 million.
When asked by CNSNews.com if the recipients provided family planning services, specifically contraceptive and abortion referrals, Martin Kramer, director of communications for HRSA, said the funding complies with federal, state and local laws.
“The grants announced today are capital improvement grants,” Kramer said in an e-mail response to the questions. “The funds may be used for construction, renovation and equipment purchases.”
“No funds provided under the School-based health center funding opportunity can be used for expenditures for personnel or to provide health services,” Kramer said.
“In addition, applicants must assure that funds awarded under the grant will not be used to provide any service that is not authorized or allowed by Federal, State or local law,” Kramer said.
Funding for family planning services, including contraceptives, is allowed under federal law. According to the Web sites of some of the grant recipients, family planning is listed under services provided by the hospital or health clinic.
Kramer referred CNSNews.com to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care (NASBHC), an advocacy group, which posted a press release on its Web site detailing the HHS grants and linking to the list of grant recipients.
“More than 350 applicants from around the nation applied for this much-needed federal funding, which will allow (school-based health centers) to switch over to electronic medical records, purchase dental equipment to provide oral health services, help build new clinics or expand or improve existing space, and more,” said Linda Juszczak, executive director of NASBHC. “These projects benefit whole communities by creating construction and renovation jobs.
“We hope members of Congress who question the value of the program will tour the (school-based health center) in their communities to see the importance of these grants for children and their families.”