Trump gut­ting teen preg­nancy grants

HHS: Pro­gram shown to be in­ef­fec­tive, even makes prob­lems worse

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is cutting short a batch of Teen Preg­nancy Pre­ven­tion grants, an­ger­ing big-city health de­part­ment chiefs who said Wed­nes­day they will no longer be able to fig­ure out what’s work­ing to cut preg­nancy rates.

What was sup­posed to be a fiveyear grant is be­ing cut to three years, mean­ing fund­ing will dry up in 2018 — leav­ing 81 grantees scram­bling.

For in­stance, Seat­tle and King County schools in Washington wanted to know whether their sexed cur­ricu­lum, known as FLASH, caused stu­dents to de­lay hav­ing sex or whether those who did used con­doms or other forms of birth con­trol.

“Now the money will be yanked from us mid­stream,” said Patty Hayes, the re­gion’s pub­lic health di­rec­tor. “We won’t have the fund­ing to gather the fi­nal data and an­a­lyze the re­sults.”

Bal­ti­more stands to lose $3.5 mil­lion, and Health Com­mis­sioner Leana Wen said city of­fi­cials are strug­gling to make sense of the termination. “No rea­son was given. No al­ter­na­tives were pro­posed,” she said.

The TPP pro­gram, started in 2010 un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, costs about $100 mil­lion per year and reaches roughly 1 mil­lion ado­les­cents in about 40 states and ter­ri­to­ries.

The fed­eral De­part­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices said it was look­ing to do belt-tight­en­ing, and the pro­gram was a log­i­cal tar­get af­ter a “rig­or­ous eval­u­a­tion” of the first round of fund­ing found most of the pro­grams showed ei­ther no ef­fects or ap­peared to make things worse.

“Three pro­grams demon­strated neg­a­tive ef­fects on teen be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing an in­creased like­li­hood to be­gin hav­ing sex, in­creased like­li­hood to en­gage in un­pro­tected sex, and an in­creased like­li­hood of be­com­ing preg­nant,” the agency said. “While some pro­grams did show pos­i­tive ef­fects, most pos­i­tive im­pacts ei­ther dis­si­pated within 6-12 months or were ev­i­dent in only spe­cific sub-groups of teens.”

TPP sup­port­ers, how­ever, say chang­ing be­hav­ior is dif­fi­cult, and scor­ing a nearly 30-per­cent suc­cess rate is ac­tu­ally quite good.

They said the grants help them test out what works and what doesn’t.

“The re­sults of the eval­u­a­tions — both those that found no re­sults and those that found pos­i­tive re­sults — have ex­panded the knowl­edge of where, when and with whom ex­ist­ing ev­i­dence-based pro­grams are most ef­fec­tive,” said Bill Al­bert, chief in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer at the Na­tional Cam­paign to Pre­vent Teen and Un­planned Preg­nancy.

HHS said it no­ti­fied grant re­cip­i­ents of the new end date of 2018 af­ter Mr. Trump’s bud­get re­quest ze­roed out the fund­ing though left the door open to re­con­sid­er­ing in the mean­time.

“Dur­ing this time HHS will con­tinue to review the ev­i­dence and de­ter­mine how to bet­ter struc­ture this pro­gram, should the U.S. Congress de­cide to con­tinue its fund­ing,” the agency said.

Se­nate Democrats last month told HHS Sec­re­tary Thomas Price that his de­ci­sion to shorten the grant pe­riod uni­lat­er­ally was “highly un­usual,” par­tic­u­larly since Congress hasn’t acted on fund­ing bills for fis­cal 2018.

For now the HHS web­site still has a page tout­ing the pro­gram’s suc­cess sto­ries, from a church’s “Plan Be” pro­gram in Mi­ami, which high­lights the risks of early sex­ual ac­tiv­ity, to Pro­mot­ing Safer Sex in Ten­nessee, or “Psst,” a pro­gram for teen girls in the Knoxville area that pro­motes both con­dom use and ab­sti­nence.

The U.S. has made tremen­dous strides in cur­tail­ing the rate of teen preg­nancy in re­cent decades.

In 2015 the teen birth rate was just over 22 births per 1,000 fe­males aged 15 to 19 — a 64-per­cent drop from a long-term high in 1991, when there were nearly 62 births per 1,000, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

Rates of suc­cess in driv­ing down teen preg­nancy rates vary from place to place, how­ever, and the U.S. still lags be­hind other parts of the in­dus­tri­al­ized world.

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