Arkansas pregnancy centers seek almost $500,000 in second round of state grants

Lawmakers created $1 million fund in March to encourage birth

By: - December 12, 2022 6:30 am
A white woman consoles her daughter because the younger woman became pregnant. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Pregnancy resource centers throughout Arkansas asked the state in November for a total of nearly half a million dollars, much of what’s left in a state fund aimed at facilities that discourage clients from ending their pregnancies.

Nine of the 16 applicants for this second round of funding also applied for the first round in August, and eight of them received some or all of their requests. The state Department of Finance and Administration distributed $454,191 of the $1 million grant fund to 14 applicants in late September. Two of the 16 organizations that had applied did not receive any funds.

The second group of applications requested a total of $494,973.91, according to documents obtained via an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request.

Digital advertising was a shared priority among the applicants in the first round. Several centers that received money said they would use to target ads toward Arkansans whose online activity suggests they might have an unplanned pregnancy. Some of the second-round applicants, though fewer, are also focused on advertising.

Pregnancy resource centers also hope to use some of the taxpayer-funded grants to pay for physical advertising, rent and utilities, baby supplies, parenting classes and more staff, among other things, according to both rounds of applications. The centers, which are often affiliated with religious organizations, and the grant program share the mission of encouraging pregnant Arkansans to give birth.

Republican state leaders have held up the centers as critical now that abortion has been almost entirely outlawed in Arkansas since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Act 187 of 2022 creating the grant program in March. The law lists the facilities eligible for grant funding as “crisis pregnancy centers,” maternity homes, adoption agencies, and “social service agencies that provide material support and other assistance to individuals facing an unintended pregnancy to help those individuals give birth to their unborn children.”

Seven organizations are applying for grants for the first time, including Compassion House, a Springdale home for pregnant and parenting teenage girls.

A maternity home in Berryville and an adoption agency in Little Rock were among the first round of applicants. The remaining applicants in both rounds have all been crisis pregnancy centers.

Acts of Hope, a crisis pregnancy center in Blytheville, applied for the grant again after receiving no money the first time. The only other first-round applicant that received no funds did not apply again because it is based in Oklahoma and therefore ineligible for consideration.

The Department of Finance and Administration will announce the funding amounts on Dec. 23 and distribute the money in mid-January, department spokesman Scott Hardin said.

Recipients will have until June 30, 2023, to spend the money. Any unspent funds will return to Arkansas’ general revenue fund.

Sixteen organizations applied for the second round of funding from Arkansas’ pregnancy resource center grant. The nine that also applied for the first round of funds earlier this year are:

  • Caring Hearts Pregnancy Center, Little Rock/North Little Rock: $20,560.62
  • Acts of Hope, Blytheville: $26,230.95
  • ChangePoint Pregnancy Care & Parenting Center, Hot Springs: $28,100
  • New Beginnings Pregnancy Center, Benton: $31,999
  • Hope of the Delta, Pine Bluff/Stuttgart/West Memphis: $32,000
  • HopePlace Newport: $32,000
  • Open Arms Pregnancy Center, Huntsville: $32,000
  • St. Joseph’s Helpers of Pulaski County d/b/a Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center, Little Rock: $32,000
  • Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas, Arkadelphia: $37,520

Each applicant asked for less money in the second round than in the first.

The seven organizations that did not apply for the first round are:

  • Alpha Center, Batesville: $26,800
  • Pregnancy Help Clinic, Clarksville: $30,420
  • HopePlace Monticello: $31,224.50
  • Informed Choices Women’s Center of the Ozarks, Mountain Home: $31,257.18
  • Pathway Resource Center, Texarkana: $31,996.18
  • HopePlace Fordyce: $32,000
  • Compassion House, Springdale: $38,865.48

All 16 entities asked for a total of $494,973.91, almost $7,000 more than the total requested in the first round.

Advertising efforts

Hope of the Delta, a pregnancy resource center with locations in Pine Bluff, Stuttgart and West Memphis, used to rely on “word of mouth or a Google search” for public awareness of its services, according to its November application for the grant.

“Although we anticipated an increase in traffic [since Roe v. Wade was overturned], that has not been the case,” the application states. “… We believe changing our marketing plan would allow us to reach more clients.”

Hope of the Delta’s first-round request for $32,225, which it received in full, aimed to help the center expand its prenatal education program from Pine Bluff to the other two locations. The center is the only second-round applicant to request funding solely for advertising, and the requested amount should cover a variety of physical and digital advertising efforts, including working with Google Ads and a North Little Rock marketing firm.

Three pregnancy resource centers have already received money for Google Ads contracts. HopePlace Newport, Caring Hearts in Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center in Little Rock all have now applied twice for the state grant.

Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center executive director Shelley Lewis recommended the North Little Rock marketing firm, Media & More Consulting, to Hope of the Delta, she said. Lewis asked for and received $40,000 from the grant program earlier this year, entirely for advertising.

Media & More will manage Hope of the Delta’s pay-per-click ads for $1,500 per month, according to the contract included in the grant application.

Another marketing firm, based in Missouri, specializes in pregnancy resource centers and has a nationwide reach. Choose Life Marketing evaluated HopePlace Newport’s digital presence earlier this year and found it lacking, which motivated the center to apply for advertising funds in August, according to its application.

Choose Life Marketing also evaluated HopePlace Monticello and Informed Choices Women’s Center of the Ozarks, according to their applications in the second round. Both centers, plus HopePlace Fordyce and New Beginnings Pregnancy Center, wrote in their applications that they hope to work with Choose Life Marketing if they receive state funds.

Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center has seen the uptick in engagement it hoped for after receiving money for advertising, Lewis said.

“We’ve seen clients interact with us more on social media,” she said. “We’ve seen an increase in inquiries through our website, as well as phone calls [asking for] more clarity in understanding our services, what our intentions are and what we help our clients with.”

Other grant spending goals

Arkansas has at least 64 pregnancy resource centers, and 33 are affiliates of Heartbeat International, according to the Ohio-based anti-abortion group’s website. Heartbeat faced scrutiny from Democratic U.S. senators earlier this year for collecting personal information from patients seeking abortions.

Money from the first round of grants will allow staff from ChangePoint, a Hot Springs pregnancy center, and New Beginnings to attend Heartbeat’s April 2023 conference in Louisville, Ky.

New Beginnings asked the state in its second application for more money so more employees can attend. Informed Choices and HopePlace Monticello also requested funds for the same purpose in the second round.

Heartbeat offers its members website design and hosting services that Acts of Hope wants to use if it receives grant money, executive director Stacey Harris said.

Acts of Hope did not receive any of the $40,000 it requested earlier this year. The center wanted to use the money primarily to hire staff to fundraise for the center, and the grant does not support fundraising efforts.

Harris said she had a new understanding of the grant while working on the second application.

“Instead of just sustainability for the pregnancy center and things like that, it needed to be directly related to helping the mother and child,” she said.

Some other potential uses of the grant money include:

  • Five applicants asked for money to buy car seats for new parents.
  • Alpha Center in Batesville hopes to purchase a new ultrasound machine for $26,800.
  • Caring Hearts and Informed Choices both hope to conduct advertising campaigns in local public high schools.
  • HopePlace Monticello wants new computers and a new printer, help paying for utilities, and the creation of an emergency fund for clients’ unexpected expenses, such as transportation and medical bills.

Similarly, Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center requested $15,000 for a “health and family scholarship” to help clients with rent, insurance deductibles, mental health care and other needs, according to the application.

Lewis said the idea for the scholarship came from “feedback from the medical community,” or from local medical professionals that some of the center’s clients have sought out.

“We do have funds from time to time that we’re able to help clients with, but we’d like to have something more foundational and regular,” Lewis said.

Religious mission

The grant program’s specific aim is to help pregnant Arkansans give birth regardless of whether the organization or the client practices any religion, so the money can only be used for non-religious services, Hardin said in an Aug. 10 email.

Some center directors said in August that they would not apply for the grant because of this stipulation. They said they feared that accepting government money could restrict their religious missions even if the money would help them expand their services.

Sarah Teed, an attorney and a volunteer at the Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas, said in September that the grant can pay employees’ salaries without funding their time spent sharing the center’s religious mission, as long as employees meticulously record how they use their time.

Harris said Acts of Hope can live without the grant money if anything in the application indicates it might cross the grant’s religious boundary because “God will supply” what the center needs to function.

“I’m not a grant writer, so if I overlooked something that’s not allowed and they don’t give me money, that’s OK too, because we first and foremost are a ministry, period,” Harris said.

 

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.

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