The Obama administration announced last week a major step in its effort to marshal the forces of the federal government to prevent teen pregnancies — and gave sex-education programs their biggest funding boost in 14 years.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it was making available about $155 million in fiscal 2011 for programs to prevent teen pregnancy, even as grant money was drying up for some abstinence-centered programs.
“Teen pregnancy short-circuits the futures of young parents and their children,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. These new grants will assist states and communities to give young people “the tools and information they need to make wise decisions that will ensure their health and success,” she added.
The department also awarded $33.4 million in grants for abstinence education to 29 states and Puerto Rico. This is far less than in previous years, when there were two major abstinence funding streams.
The grant decisions represent a sea change in policy for the U.S. government, with the Obama administration steering grantees toward a list of “proven” sex-education programs that must be medically accurate and age-appropriate.
The move pleases many in the field of teen pregnancy prevention.
The new funding “marks a key milestone in the administration’s ongoing overhaul of U.S. teen-pregnancy prevention efforts,” said the Guttmacher Institute.
With the decline in teen-pregnancy rates at a virtual standstill, this “investment of federal funds could not be more timely,” said Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
But Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, noted that when the 102 HHS grantees were announced last week, 169 abstinence programs were losing their funding as the Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program expired.
Probably seven of the new grantees are “abstinence-centered,” she said, but the overall trend is a “de facto defunding” of abstinence education.
Ms. Brown’s group praised the Obama administration’s approach of giving the bulk of the money — $75 million a year for five years — to grantees who will replicate one of 28 programs identified as having a positive impact on the problem of teen pregnancy. Positive outcomes included delaying sexual debut, reducing the number of sex partners and increasing condom and contraceptive use.
An additional $25 million will go to programs that develop promising new approaches, said Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign. This is important, he said, “because if we are to make progress, we will need to try out some new things.”
In Washington, D.C., leaders of Sasha Bruce Youthworks were given a $634,849-a-year grant for five years to replicate the Teen Outreach Program, one of the programs that the HHS identified as proven.
Sasha Bruce just started offering after-school services at Southeast Washington’s Ballou High School, and “we thought it was a great opportunity to provide teen-pregnancy prevention,” said Jim Beck, director of development for the nonprofit group.
The Teen Outreach Program was appealing because of its proven ability to lower pregnancy risk — by 53 percent, according to the Wyman Center, which developed the program — and because it promotes community service and civic engagement as well.
“We were like, wow, this is perfect,” Mr. Beck said, adding that he expected about 500 students a year to receive the group’s services.
In Baltimore, an organization that serves women and teens in crisis won a grant of $890,798 a year for the next five years.
Ms. Huber said her abstinence education association has never advocated to deprive contraceptive programs of all funding. But opponents of abstinence education have pushed to cut off all federal funding for abstinence programs, arguing they are ineffective.
Before Congress adjourned last week, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, and Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, introduced a bill calling for the Title V Abstinence Education grant program to be repealed and its $50-million-a-year funding stream redirected to comprehensive sex education.
The Title V program, created in the 1996 welfare reform law, was dropped until Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, restored it in the health care legislation signed by President Obama this spring.