Aug 20, 2017

Trump cuts funding for Obama's teen pregnancy program

Sam Jayne/Axios

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Adolescent Health recently notified 81 grantees that it would be discontinuing Obama-era funding under the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program (TPP) — which helps educate teenagers on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. They pulled the funding after just three years instead of the planned five, per Wired.

  • The reasoning: HHS said in a statement that the "very weak evidence of positive impact of these programs stands in stark contrast to the promised results, jeopardizing the youth who were served."
  • The conflict: The Trump administration is basing its judgment on the evaluation results of the first round of grants — not the current round. Rachel Fey, the director of public policy at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told Axios: "Judging the current round of grantees on the evaluation results of the first round makes no sense. The whole point of the first round was to learn what did and didn't work, and that gets incorporated into what they're doing in the second round."

What these programs do

The grantees create customized programs to serve their communities and meet the needs of the youth and families there. Almost all of them offer specialized programs that go beyond traditional comprehensive sex education programs. Some examples of the programs that received grants — out of the 24 Axios spoke with:

  • Children's Home Society (CHS) of North Carolina has a program called Wise Guys, in which over 4,000 middle- and high-school boys last year were taught not only about sex and abstinence, but also about communication in relationships and the pressures they face of what it means to be a man.
  • The Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health runs the Respecting the Circle of Life program, focusing on American Indians. According to the Center's associate director Lauren Tingey, they were "the only grantee funded within the tier 2B work exclusively within the American Indian population."
  • The Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies in New Orleans, Louisiana, has customized their program for teenagers affected by Hurricane Katrina and screened for PTSD.
  • The Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) of South Florida focuses around "economic self efficiency," according to CEO Newton Sanon. The program focuses on the consequences of having a child as a teenager, even having both female and male students wear "mock pregnancy bellies."
  • The Center for Innovative Public Health Research has initiated a national text messaging campaign that reaches out to LGBT girls with daily motivational statements, encouragement to talk to trusted adults about contraception, and information about how to prevent pregnancy.

What comes next

Almost 150 members of Congress wrote to HHS Secretary Tom Price on July 25 requesting an explanation for the grant cuts, saying they were "gravely concerned" about the Administration disrupting the five-year grant agreement.

And even if HHS continues to refuse to fund the grants — a decision that will come into force on June 30, 2018 — it's not game over just yet. It's possible that Congress may decide to appropriate money to the TPP program in September.

But there's still a problem: The final spending bill would have to contain language specifically directing it to these grantees, otherwise the administration can use that money for whatever they deem fit. Genevieve Martinez-Garcia with Healthy Teen Network in Baltimore said that there's a big concern that the funds could be shifted to supporting abstinence-only programs, which she argues are "based in fear, in shaming, and extremely...heteronormative."

Dr. Denese Shervington, president and CEO of the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, told Axios that ultimately, the decision to fund the TPP program and its grantees will depend on how members of Congress view these programs: "For it to be important, they would have to have a heart," she said. "They would have to be thinking about children and their needs versus their own ideology. And I'm not sure the people who are there have the moral capacity to put their ideology aside and think about poor, vulnerable youth."

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