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Exclusive: ACORN Qualifies for Funding in Senate Health Care Bill

5:59 PM, Dec 21, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Senator Roland Burris is claiming credit for a provision in Harry Reid's "manager's amendment," unveiled Saturday morning, that could funnel money to ACORN through the health care bill.

On December 9, Burris, an Illinois Democrat, pledged that he would filibuster a health care bill without a public option. "If we have to get 60 and it comes back and it does not have a public option in it, I will not vote for it," he said. Then early last week he said he could vote for the bill if there were changes made to achieve the goals of the public option: "until this bill addresses cost, competition, and accountability in a meaningful way-it will not win [my vote]."

Asked last night before the Senate voted why he was planning to support a bill without a public option, Burris said: "We have a great bill--the best we could get. And it also covers most of our concerns: competition, cost, and accountability." But had anything specifically changed in the text of the bill that helped him change his mind? Burris told THE WEEKLY STANDARD: "It was the disparity provision that was put in, which we had something to do with, in terms of making sure that diabetes and the other diseases that are affecting minorities are really studied by HHS in all of these pilot programs."

The provision he cites, found on pages 240 through 248 of the manager's amendment, requires that six different agencies each establish an "Office of Minority Health." The agencies are the "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services."

According to page 241 of the amendment:

In carrying out this subsection, the Secretary, acting through the Deputy Assistant Secretary, shall award grants, contracts, enter into memoranda of understanding, cooperative, interagency, intra-agency and other agreements with public and nonprofit private entities, agencies, as well as Departmental and Cabinet agencies and organizations, and with organizations that are indigenous human resource providers in communities of color to assure improved health status of racial and ethnic minorities, and shall develop measures to evaluate the effectiveness of activities aimed at reducing health disparities and supporting the local community. Such measures shall evaluate community outreach activities, language services, workforce cultural competence, and other areas as determined by the Secretary.''

According to a Senate legislative aide, the scandal-plagued Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now could qualify for grants under this provision. ACORN would also qualify for funding on page 150 of the underlying Reid bill, which says that "community and consumer-focused nonprofit groups" may receive grants to "conduct public education activities to raise awareness of the availability of qualified health plans."

Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a ban on federal funding for ACORN, but a judge ruled that that law was unconstitutional. If a higher court reverses that ruling, ACORN may be prohibited from receiving funds through the Office of Minority Health earmark. But according to the Senate legislative aide, ACORN would still "absolutely" qualify for federal funding through the provision in the underlying Reid bill because the anti-ACORN appropriations amendment would not apply to funds provided through the health care exchanges.

A spokesman for Sen. Harkin, chairman of the HELP committee, wrote in an email that he "will look into" which organizations qualify for funding under these provisions. Spokesmen for Senators Reid and Dodd did not immediately reply to emails.