Will ACORN Get Cash Earmarked in Health Care Bill for ‘National Network of Community-Based Organizations’?—Bill’s Author Says ‘I Don’t Know’

By Edwin Mora | July 22, 2009 | 6:36 PM EDT

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) (AP Photo)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), the man who is shepherding the health-care reform bill through the Senate, says he doesn’t know for sure, but the controversial Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) could qualify to receive health-care grants under a provision of the bill that provides money for groups that are members of a “national network of community based organizations.” 

The grants are designed to fund groups that will "measure" people's health-related behavior on the community level, including whether they are gaining or losing weight, eating the right foods, getting exercise, using tobacco, or engaging in other personal behaviors targeted for federal monitoring by the secretary of health and human services.

“I don’t believe so, but they could be,” Dodd told CNSNews.com. “I just don’t want to say categorically it’s the case.”
Dodd (D-Conn.), who is substituting for the ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) as acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is the top Senate Democrat responsible for formulating the Affordable Health Choices Act.

Under the “Creating Healthier Communities” provision of the bill (found on page 382), grants could be awarded to only three types of "entities:" state governments, local governments and groups that are members of a “national network of community-based organizations."

But when CNSNews.com asked, Dodd could not rule out that the controversial group ACORN could benefit from this provision in his bill.

“I’m not saying yes or no, I just don’t know. I don’t think it’s a blanket thing that anyone applies necessarily,” he told CNSNews.com. “There would have to be criteria by which an organization qualifies to receive those grants.”

He reiterated: “There obviously has to be some criteria by which organizations could receive the grants, and I don’t know if there’s just a blanket (criterion) for any organization out there,” and added “That would be an overstatement.”

ACORN -- a national association of community based organizations -- has come under fire in recent years over voter its voter registration activities. The state of Nevada filed criminal charges against the organization in May for allegedly illegally paying canvassers to register voters before the 2008 election.  ACORN has denied the charges.

The organization has also come under scrutiny because of its partnership agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to help in the 2010 Census count.
The language of the the Senate Health committee's bill does not specify that any particular national networks of community based organizations will receive the grants that the bill would create, but leaves the awarding of the grants to the discretion of the secretary of health and human services through the director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CNSNews.com asked Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is a top Republican on the committee, if he knew which community based organizations would be eligible to become grantees under the Creating Healthier Communities provision. He said he did not know.
“Well, I don’t know to be honest with you,” Sen. Hatch told CNSNews.com. “I don’t know which organizations will qualify.”

But Hatch is concerned that money in the bill will also go to fund organizations that perform abortions--like Planned Parenthood. 
The grant program in question envisions that grantees, including those representing national networks of community based organizatiosn, will work “to implement a variety of programs, policies, and infrastructure improvements to promote healthier lifestyles.”

These grantees will be charged with carrying out a “community transformation plan,” and the targets of their activities will include local schools, infrastructure and restaurants.

The bill specifically directs organizations receiving the grant money that they must “with respect to residents in the community, measure -- (i) decreases in weight; (ii) increases in proper nutrition; (iii) increases in physical activity; (iv) decreases in tobacco use prevalence;(v) other factors using community specific data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey; and(vi) other factors as determined by the Secretary.”