Los Angeles, Calif.-- A big share of the financial burden of raising Nadya Suleman's 14 children could fall on the shoulders of California's taxpayers, compounding the public furor in a state already billions of dollars in the red.
Even before the 33-year-old single, unemployed mother gave birth to octuplets last month, she had been caring for her six other children with the help of $490 a month in food stamps, plus Social Security disability payments for three of the youngsters. The public aid will almost certainly be increased with the new additions to her family.
Also, the hospital where the octuplets are expected to spend seven to 12 weeks has requested reimbursement from Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, for care of the premature babies, according to the Los Angeles Times. The cost has not been disclosed.
Word of the public assistance has stoked the furor over Suleman's decision to have so many children by having embryos implanted in her womb.
"It appears that, in the case of the Suleman family, raising 14 children takes not simply a village but the combined resources of the county, state and federal governments," Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten wrote in Wednesday's paper. He called Suleman's story "grotesque."
On the Internet, bloggers rained insults on Suleman, calling her an "idiot," criticizing her decision to have more children when she couldn't afford the ones she had, and suggesting she be sterilized.
"It's my opinion that a woman's right to reproduce should be limited to a number which the parents can pay for," Charles Murray wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Daily News. "Why should my wife and I, as taxpayers, pay child support for 14 Suleman kids?"
She was also berated on talk radio, where listeners accused her of manipulating the system and being an irresponsible mother.
"From the outside you can tell that this woman was playing the system," host Bryan Suits said on the "Kennedy and Suits" show on KFI-AM. "You're damn right the state should step in and seize the kids and adopt them out."
Suleman's spokesman, Mike Furtney, urged understanding.
"I would just ask people to consider her situation and she has been under a tremendous amount of pressure that no one could be prepared for," Furtney said.
Furtney said he, Suleman and her family had received death threats and had been getting messages that were "disgusting things that would never be proper to put in any story."
Some people were beginning to respond to the children's need for care.
Rex Wolins, a pastor at Calvary Chapel Golden Springs in Diamond Bar, said that volunteers from the church will be helping Suleman with childcare. Wolins planned to release more information Thursday.
In her only media interviews, Suleman told NBC's "Today" she doesn't consider the public assistance she receives to be welfare and doesn't intend to remain on it for long.
Also, a Nadya Suleman Family Web Site has been set up to collect donations for the children. It features pictures of the mother and each octuplet and has instructions for making donations by check or credit card.
Suleman, whose six older children range in age from 2 to 7, said three of them receive disability payments. She told NBC one is autistic, another has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, and a third experienced a mild speech delay with "tiny characteristics of autism." She refused to say how much they get in payments.
In California, a low-income family can receive Social Security payments of up to $793 a month for each disabled child. Three children would amount to $2,379.
The Suleman octuplets' medical costs have not been disclosed, but in 2006, the average cost for a premature baby's hospital stay in California was $164,273, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The average cost for just one cesarean birth in 2006 was $22,762 in California. Eight times that equals $1.3 million.
For a single mother, the cost of raising 14 children through age 17 ranges from $1.3 million to $2.7 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is struggling to close a $42 billion budget gap by cutting services, declined through a spokesman to comment on the taxpayer costs associated with the octuplets' delivery and care.
The Legislature could step in. Outraged constituents are phoning the office of state Sen. Sam Aanestad and asking, "Why am I paying for this?" the senator said.
"I don't think there is anyone who ethically thinks what happened is right," said Aanestad, an oral surgeon who sits on the Health Committee.
"There are 14 babies out there that for the next 20 years are probably going to need assistance from the taxpayers. There should be something in place so that this doesn't happen again," Aanestad said.
What that might be isn't clear. The Grass Valley Republican said that once a state Medical Board investigation is complete, lawmakers could review issues from government oversight to standards in fertility treatment. He's generally reluctant to see lawmakers dabble in standards of medical care, but taxpayer money is at stake.
Suleman received disability payments for an on-the-job back injury during a riot at a state mental hospital, collecting more than $165,000 over nearly a decade before the benefits were discontinued last year.
Some of the disability money was spent on in vitro ertilizations, which was used for all 14 of her children, Suleman said. Suleman said she also worked double shifts at the mental hospital and saved up for the treatments. She estimated that all her treatments cost $100,000.
Fourteen states, including California, require insurance companies to offer or provide coverage for infertility treatment, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But California has a law specifically excluding in vitro coverage. It's not clear what type of coverage Suleman has.
In the NBC interview, Suleman said she will go back to California State University, Fullerton in the fall to complete her master's degree in counseling, and will use student loans to support her children. She already owes $50,000 in student loans she told NBC. She said she will rely on the school's daycare center and volunteers.