HHS backs off plan to cut funding for certain teen pregnancy prevention groups

HHS backs off plan to cut funding for certain teen pregnancy prevention groups
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday said it will resume grants for groups working to prevent teen pregnancies, a reversal from last year's announcement that it would end funding two years earlier than expected.

An agency spokesperson told The Hill that HHS will continue grant funding this year for groups participating in the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. Several federal judges have ruled against HHS for its plan to end the five-year grants, which began in 2015, after three years.

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Grants for the recently completed third year ended on June 30, and it's not clear yet when all participants will receive their fourth year of funding. Some groups contacted by The Hill have already received funds from HHS while others have not.

The administration informed 81 groups last August that their grants would end in 2018 rather than in 2020, saving more than $200 million over two years. HHS argued the projects were ineffective, with 73 percent having either no impact or a negative effect on teen behavior.

Supporters of the program countered that changing behavior is difficult, and that the numbers cited by the administration are positive. They also noted that teen pregnancy rates have declined 41 percent since 2010.

All 81 grant recipients then launched, and won, five separate lawsuits, with judges ruling that the administration's termination of the funding was unlawful. The most recent ruling came in June, when Judge Kentanji Brown ruled in favor of 62 of the grantees that filed a class-action lawsuit.

Up until now, it was unclear whether HHS would appeal any of the rulings, but the agency spokesperson told The Hill that HHS would follow the courts orders.

"We will be funding the original grantees for the next year under the previous criteria" set by the Obama administration, the spokesperson said.

The program began in 2015 with funding for diverse organizations, some of which included abstinence education, in 39 states working to end teen pregnancy. The Trump administration this year announced new criteria for receiving the funding, with an emphasis on abstinence.

HHS had planned to use that criteria to award grants to new organizations, but the court rulings derailed that plan.

Funding will now resume for the original 81 grant recipients, and any remaining funds will be awarded to new groups under the new criteria, the HHS spokesperson said, adding that the anticipated start date for the new grants will be sometime in September.