Las Vegas Sun

June 21, 2018

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Trump’s needless cuts put pregnancy prevention program at risk

Add teenage girls and young women to the list of Americans whose health and welfare have been placed at risk by the Trump administration.

A program aimed at empowering teens to avoid unplanned pregnancies and protect themselves from sexually-transmitted diseases is in danger of being curtailed or possibly even eliminated, and the administration’s conservative political ideology is the key culprit.

In June, 81 local governments and health organizations were notified that federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grant funding was being cut as of the next fiscal year. Among those receiving notification was the Southern Nevada Health District, whose program provides information to hundreds of girls and young women per year on safe sexual and reproductive practices — and which places particular emphasis on serving at-risk, disadvantaged local residents.

The grant funding, which is awarded over five-year periods with funds delivered annually, was created by Congress and implemented by the Obama administration in 2010. SNHD was among the organizations that received funding in the first round of grants and was midway through the round when it learned the grants would be eliminated in June 2018.

So why were the grants axed? No explanation was given, said Xavier Foster, health education supervisor for the SNHD.

But since then, it’s been reported that the department that administers the grants, Health and Human Services, decided to “hit the pause button” because of “weak evidence” that the programs were working any better than sex education curriculum and health services that are currently being offered.

Dig into that explanation a little, and it falls apart. It’s based on evaluations of fewer than half of the 102 grants that were awarded in 2010, and no research on results from the second round of grants. Second, the program was designed to encourage experimentation on approaches to find out which ones were most effective in reaching different groups of teenagers — rural versus urban, younger versus older, etc. So while some innovations may not have worked, it doesn’t mean that the whole program should be shut down.

Most problematic with the explanation is that there’s been a 50 percent national reduction in teens having babies between 2007 and 2015. Why cut a tiny sliver of the federal budget — the grants total about $200 million — when the overall trend is so positive?

Here’s why: conservative politics. Health and Human Services is run by Tom Price, a far-right culture warrior who as a House member from Georgia staunchly opposed federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a family planning program and a rule requiring insurers to cover contraception at no cost to policyholder,s among other things. Another key figure involved is Valerie Huber, the former operate of an abstinence advocacy group, who serves as chief of staff for the assistant secretary who oversees the grants.

In Las Vegas, where the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program operates on a $750,000 annual budget — all of which comes from the grants — the cuts have left officials scrambling to find an alternative source of funding.

At stake are programs such as classes at three juvenile justice detention sites and four probation sites, where participants are given information about reproductive and sexual health and are connected with sources for birth control, family planning services and more.

The classroom curriculum includes instruction on “denial tools,” or strategies that teens can use when they’re being pressured to have sex.

“An example would be when somebody says, ‘You’d have sex with me if you loved me,’” Foster said. “We’d flip that around and say, ‘If you loved me, you wouldn’t be putting me in this situation.’”

The local program also provides classes in schools and offers instruction to parents on how to discuss reproductive issues with their children, among other services.

Losing the program would be “sad and tragic,” Foster said.

“I see the need, and I see the reaction to the engagement,” he said.

Along with cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget, rollbacks of protections for workers, sharp reductions in programs for the poor and elderly, and much more, discontinuing the grant is yet another example of how the Trump administration’s assault on Obama’s legacy is putting Americans in jeopardy.

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