The Indiana Legislature met in special session earlier this month to outlaw abortion with few exceptions, and consequently sweeten the pot with $74 million in new funds for government and nonprofit programs to improve pre-and post-natal care, safe delivery, and infant health, along with support for foster and adoption services and “women in crisis.”
Indiana needs all the help it can get. For years it has experienced high infant and maternal mortality rates. Many counties don’t even have hospitals or at least hospitals with maternity services, and no doubt this money is needed. Except for this: $1 million has been allocated to finance Safe Haven Baby Boxes—the boxes often promoted as an evangelical Christian ministry. SHBB Inc’s best friend, State Rep. Randy Frye, announced the funding in a August 19, 2022, press release, Supporting Hoosier Mother and Families:
I’m also excited that lawmakers approved $1 million to help communities install and promote Safe Haven Baby Boxes. The state’s Safe Haven Law allows parents in crisis to safely and unanimously surrender an infant less than 30 days old without prosecution. A last resort option for a mom to surrender their newborn and maintain anonymity is to use a Safe Haven Baby Box. These boxes are temperature-controlled incubators monitored 24/7 and installed in an exterior wall of a designated fire station or hospital. Currently, there are 88 baby boxes in Indiana, which is more than any other state, with several located in our area. The Safe Haven Baby Box organization staffs a 24-hour hotline (1-866-99BABY1) to give women the opportunity to talk to a trained professional as they consider safely surrendering their baby.
The allocation is cited here, more or less, in Special Session SB 002:
(d) The budget agency may allot money from the fund to the department of child services, the family and social services administration, the Indiana department of health, and the department of homeland security to provide additional funding for existing programs and new programs with the following purposes:(1) To support the health of pregnant women, postpartum mothers, and infants.(2) To support pregnancy planning, including addressing barriers to long acting reversible contraception.(3) To support the needs of families with children less than four (4) years of age who are low income or lack access to resources.(4) To increase the number of families served under the ChildCare Development Fund.(5) To support Indiana’s foster families and adoptive families.(6) To support prevention based programming that would prevent children from entering the department of child services system.(7) To support funding for newborn safety devices as described in IC 31-34-2.5-1.(8) To provide funding to providers of maternal support services and services to help pregnant women and their families bring their pregnancy to term. To be eligible for funding under this subdivision, providers may not be affiliated with any abortion clinic (as defined in C 16-18-2-1.5).
No specific dollar allocation for the baby box company is written into the bill, but a deal has obviously been cooked up. I suspect the money will come out of the $45 million going to the Hoosier Families First Fund. I wrote to Rep. Frye asking for details that I will post if and when I get them.
This is a surprising development—but maybe it isn’t when you consider the baby box chicken-in-every pot vision of a future America.
From Day One, Monica Kelsey, founder and CEO of SHBB Inc., has promoted her project as a grassroots campaign funded through local voluntary donations from individuals, private businesses, civic associations, fraternal organizations, churches, ministries, and foundations. This is a sophisticated movement-building strategy designed to create stakeholding emotional and community ownership of boxes by generating local funds, support, and publicity that would otherwise not exist. In other words, if baby boxes were just another government service their installation and very infrequent use wouldn’t create the Big Deal that so-called grassroots efforts do with local involvement, fundraisers, box blessings, and photo-ops for Safe Haven Baby Box officials, politicians, and other “important people.”
While boxes are generally privately funded, there are some exceptions. In Indiana, a few boxes are partially funded with taxpayer money, but the amounts are moderate. Earlier this year, New Mexico lawmakers attempted to hype boxes by allocating $330,000 towards them, but the legislature closed before a vote. Something most likely will get through in 2023—or earlier if a special session is held later this year.
But, that’s not the end of it.
The Union Township Money Circus
Recently, Clermont County, Ohio political watchdog Chris Hicks, (unaffiliated with SSHBBN ), dropped a bombshell on the whole baby box scheme. Mr. Hicks fits the profile of the Safe Haven Baby Box fanbase: a conservative Republican Christian opposed to abortion. Unfortunately, for SHBB Inc., he is also a strong advocate of fiscal responsibility and transparency in government no matter who is in charge or how good a project sounds. He quickly smelled a big fat rat when he investigated the Safe Haven Baby Box located near him at Fire Station 50 in Union Township. Trustees, he learned, decided to bypass the donation part and fully fund the box with $16,000 (in public money. Ouf!
Bad enough being out of compliance with baby box money doctrine, but worse yet: the trustees didn’t even care that the station, which does around 25 runs a day, was not fully staffed 24/7 as required by Ohio law. When he visited the station to check out the box Mr. Hicks found no one home and videoed himself peering through the windows and banging on the door of the empty station. This embarrassing disclosure forced Mrs. Kelsey to commit to fund the salary of the new employee, though it appears that she failed to come through, thus sticking the taxpayers with the bill, to the tune of $722 a day (as of this writing about 60,000)to maintain staffing so someone can monitor the baby box that likely will never be used.
But it gets better or worse, depending on who you are!
The fire department didn’t bother to submit the required permit request to the county to add the baby box until nearly a month after the box was officially blessed and opened. And then the application failed its first review. The permit was eventually finalized two weeks later. In the meantime the box was in business with no permit or inspection for about six weeks! (Shouldn’t SHBB Inc have checked that before they threw the blessing and welcomed the press? ) Further investigation through records requests by Mr. Hicks showed that state-mandated daily maintenance logs were shoddy and incomplete. To clear up this mess (there’s more I haven’t listed) trustees were forced to hire legal counsel at taxpayer expense to argue their 24/7 case with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who upheld the requirement.
In early July 7* Mr. Hicks estimated that Union Township Trustees had already spent over $36,000 in public money for what was sold to the public as a free service—often pushed as part of an evangelical ministry—funded by private donations. With the $700/day payroll for one new firefighter it’s grown substantially.
I am absolutely baffled that Mr. Hicks and a handful of his readers on Facebook are the only people who are bothered by this.
On July 29, Mr Hicks testified before the Ohio Public Health Advisory Board (consisting of representatives of the state Department of Jobs and Family Services, the Department of Health, and various legal staff ) to discuss his findings during a mandated review of the baby boxes under Ohio Administrative Code authority. Beyond Union Township he indicated that other box locations in the state were out of compliance. In response, a board member said that one location (certainly Union Township) was under investigation and that another location had been sent a “request for information” that is pending.
The advisory board has no real authority to change rules per se, and passed to continue the current rules. They also voiced critical concern on the irregularities brought forward by Mr.Hicks and suggested that those that fall under various agency authorities could be investigated. Listening to the hearing it is clear that Ohio Revised Code and the Administrative Code currently lack the language to regulate boxes in any serious manner. That needs to be changed.
- OPHRB meeting links: comments and presentation | video.
- Go to Hicks Watchdog for a lot more information and SHBB postings
- *Facebook doesn’t allow me to get a specific URL on this, so I’ve posted the date.
According to the the most recently available informational tax return of SHBB Inc. (free registration required) the organization received close to $1 million in income in 2020. Although the bill does not say how new funds will be distributed, the organization, one way or another, will likely soon double that income or at worst, greatly extend its financial reach. We only know this according to the bill’s language and Rep Frye’s press release that the funds will go to “communities,” thus pretty much wiping out grassroots, voluntary donation, and community-building beg-a-thons in Indiana. Let’s see. $1 million divided by $16,000 comes to 62.5 new baby boxes courtesy of the taxpayers, though I suspect such a big order will mean a deep discount. Groupon anyone?
As of this writing, Mrs. Kelsey has failed to announce this windfall on social media—her chief instrument of communication although the law went into effect on August 5. Obviously, a lot of work needs to be done yet to get that money into corporate clutches. You’d think, however, that we’d hear “hey! guess what . . . ” especially since the law and the press release are public information. Perhaps radio silence is in place to keep the grassroots/private donation/community building crisis machine ticking..
What does this mean for how Safe Haven Baby Boxes will drum up money, publicity, and babies in the future? I dunno. It will certainly free up money to work in new states and states with not-so-generous legislatures as well as for more advertising, staff, and hoopla when a baby gets caught in a box. I won’t be surprised if Mrs. Kelsey also works on more baby box law amendments in Indiana (since she always gets what she wants at the statehouse) based on sounds she has made about privatizing baby box custody and adoption cases (moving babies from state custody to private adoption agencies) and abolishing government-mandated due diligence that requires the state to search for the other parent and family members of safe havened babies. Since she was successful in removing the 24/7 regulation in Indiana this year, she no doubt will work on that in other states, a task I believe will be difficult in Ohio.
Of course, a substantial influx of government cash brings up problems of control. Money has strings and even loose strings ruin “friendships” and changes the balance of power. There is a real chance that Mrs. Kelsey and her merry crew will lose control of their ministry eventually, and be Starbucked out of existence once the state swoops in. We can only hope.
In the meantime, Indiana continues to seal the original birth certificates and adoption records of most of its adopted people while concurrently creating a larger adoptee population.absent of documents, origins, and rights. This is not acceptable.
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