Rape victims, hemophiliacs affected

SC governor’s health vetoes cause furor

'Government is turning into a charity,' Haley supporter says in her defense

abeam@thestate.comJuly 13, 2012 

Gov. Nikki Haley addresses a crowd gathered at the State House during a Tea Party rally, Monday, April 18, 2011.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • Haley’s health-care vetoes Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed six health-care items from the state budget $500,000 For? S.C. Office of Rural Health To do? To support a website that helps rural residents find health benefits and services $453,680 For? The S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which would pass the money along to the state’s 15 rape crisis centers To do? Pay for counseling of rape victims and a six-week rape-prevention class taught in public schools, among other things $200,000 For? 11 agencies as part of the Aids Drug Assistance Program To do? AIDS prevention efforts and drug assistance $100,000 For? James R. Clark Memorial Sickle Cell Foundation To do? Pay for the organization’s primary work, managing the care of patients who have been diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, a genetic blood disorder $100,000 For? National Kidney Foundation To do? Pay for 11 programs, including health screenings, identifying people who are at risk for kidney diseases and educational programs $100,000 For? Premium Assistance Program To do? Help pay insurance premiums for South Carolinians with hemophilia, a blood-clotting disorder Total: $1,453,680

This story was corrected at 8:23 a.m.

Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed $1.4 million in state spending that would support victims of rape, help hemophiliacs pay their insurance premiums and provide testing for people at-risk for kidney disease.

In explaining her vetoes, Haley wrote that, while she extends “our sympathy and encouragement” to those affected, “nevertheless it is only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused” who benefit from the spending.

That prompted a storm of criticism that Haley is turning her back on some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“I am disappointed that she is not aware of how significant of a public health issue that sexual assault is as well as what seems to be her lack of awareness in regard to the numbers of sexual-assault victims we serve every year,” said Ginny Waller, executive director of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, which could lose $45,000 if legislators do not overturn Haley’s vetoes when they return to Columbia next week.

Haley says her argument against the spending is based on money, not merit.

She notes all of the health-care money she vetoed is one-time – not recurring – spending, meaning it is gone once it is spent with no assurance money will be found to pay for the programs next year. All of the money that Haley vetoed also was budgeted by legislators to go to private nonprofit groups, not state-run programs. And most of the programs – including support for sickle-cell anemia patients – do get some money elsewhere in the state’s budget.

Take the rape-crisis centers, for instance. Legislators did not vote to send the money that Haley vetoed directly to the centers. Instead, they sent it to a group that would send it to the rape centers.

“Why be cute about it? Why launder (the money) through a nonprofit?” said Christian Soura, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for budget and policy. “If there was a certain kind of work you want to do, then put the money in the regular budget to do that kind of work.”

Lawmakers return to Columbia next week to decide whether to sustain or overturn Haley’s vetoes. It requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to overturn a veto.

The $1.4 million Haley vetoed comes from a pot of $555 million in one-time, non-recurring money. Most of that money – $300 million – was budgeted by legislators to pay for the deepening of the Charleston port. Legislators divided the rest among a host of projects across the state, both public and private. Haley vetoed many of those items, referring to them as “pork-barrel spending.”

‘We will keep going’

South Carolina has 15 rape-crisis centers that operate as independent nonprofits in all 46 counties. Since the Great Recession started in 2007, those centers have had the state portion of their budgets cut by 46 percent.

This year, with the economy slowly recovering, the crisis centers asked for a 35 percent increase. Lawmakers gave DHEC $656,689 in recurring money for rape violence prevention, a 1.7 percent increase from last year. Rape Crisis Centers get $403,956 of that money -- the same amount they got last year.

But lawmakers gave the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault $453,680 in one-time money – money to distribute to the state’s 15 rape crisis centers.

Pam Jacobs, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said the crisis centers got $648,114 last year, a mixture of recurring and one-time money. If the governor's veto stands, she said, it would amount to a $244,000 cut.

Haley did not veto the recurring money for the rape-crisis centers, but she did veto the $453,680 in one-time money.

The crisis centers say all the money – recurring and one-time – desperately is needed.

Last year, the state’s crisis centers counseled 5,104 rape victims, a 24 percent increase since 2008.

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, the state’s largest rape-crisis center, operates in Richland, Lexington, Newberry and Sumter counties. It was to get about $45,000 of the vetoed money, roughly 6 percent of its budget. Executive director Ginny Waller said if her group does not get the vetoed money, it likely will have to pull out of one of its four counties.

Other health-care groups also could feel the sting of Haley’s vetoes.

The first-term Republican governor vetoed $100,000 for the James R. Clark Memorial Sickle Cell Foundation, based in Columbia. Sickle-cell anemia is a genetic blood disorder that deprives blood cells of their ability to deliver oxygen.

The foundation helps sickle-cell patients manage their disease. It also provides genetic testing.

Executive director Melodie Hunnicutt said the $100,000 that Haley vetoed is about 10 percent of the foundation’s budget. If the foundation doesn’t get the money, Hunnicutt said it would “do what we have been doing. We will keep going.”

Even if Haley’s veto is sustained by the Legislature, South Carolina’s four sickle-cell foundations will split an annual allocation of recurring state money. This year, they are sharing $510,026, down 46 percent since 2009.

‘Government is turning into a charity’

While Haley’s vetoes inflamed advocates, others support her.

“Government is turning into a charity,” said state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, who says he plans to vote to sustain most of Haley’s vetoes. “The difference between charity and tyranny is charity is when you willingly give to an organization because you want to help. Tyranny is when you force taxpayers to pay for these different organizations. ...”

Others say public health is too important an issue to reduce to political rhetoric.

“Those dollars, when you spend them on prevention, translates into savings in the long run,” said state Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg. “Her (Haley’s) inability to see that because she is so caught up in political rhetoric is now harming not just political discourse ... it’s harming actual individuals in the state of South Carolina. And that’s a tragedy.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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