The recent news that Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed cutting $213 million in grants for programs and research to prevent teen pregnancy is both disheartening and irresponsible. In early July, over 84 grantees throughout the U.S. received notice from the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announcing their funding would be cut short by two years.
Beginning in 2010, the OAH Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program began a competitive grant initiative, providing funding to hospitals, universities, churches, and community-based agencies to implement evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs or innovative approaches to prevent teen pregnancy.
Funding for the OAH TPP program is critical given the high rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S., particularly among certain subpopulations, the social and economic consequences of teen births, and the cost effectiveness of preventing teen pregnancy, and the need for more evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs.
While the number of live births to teens in the U.S. has declined slightly in recent years, teen pregnancy rates continue to be higher among youth of color and youth in foster care than among same-age youth in the general population. Additionally, teens in both urban and rural areas are more likely to initiate sex at an earlier age, contract a sexually transmitted disease, and experience pregnancy than their suburban peers.
The physical, social, educational, and economic consequences of teen births to society have been well-documented. For example, teen parents are more likely to drop out of school and receive public assistance than those who delay becoming parents.
Likewise, children of teen parents are more likely to experience low birth weight and infant mortality, more likely to be unprepared for school and to struggle academically, and more likely to become teen parents themselves. Teen pregnancy and childbearing are estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers in excess of $9 billion dollars per year. By contrast, the Brooking Institution estimates that over six dollars is saved for every dollar spent on evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs.
The OAH TPP initiative is one of the few federal programs that funds the implementation of evidence-based programs and requires that programs be rigorously evaluated. As the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy points out, prevention scientists and policymakers alike have universally praised the OAH TPP funding initiative as “a prime example of high-quality, evidence-based policymaking and responsible use of public funds.”
The results from OAH-funded evaluations of pregnancy prevention programs provide important information to policymakers at federal, state and local levels as well as to schools, churches, public health departments, and nonprofit organizations that want to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy and childbearing in their communities. As Congress and HHS have pointed out, all of these evaluation results help build a body of evidence about where, when, and with whom specific programs are most effective.
The decision to cut this funding was seemingly made with little public notice and without any public input. Millions of taxpayer dollars will have been wasted on research studies that cannot be completed. More importantly, cutting this funding will directly affect the lives of the young people who most need these programs.
We agree with the National Prevention Science Coalition in calling for the Senate to adopt a bipartisan approach to teen pregnancy prevention policy that can diminish the severe social, physical, and economical consequences of teen pregnancy, provide accountability by using proven interventions and monitoring their effectiveness. This is consistent with a world-view of testing all things and doing what is good.
We strongly urge Congress to reject this action and continue funding these programs.
Dr. Robert G. LaChausse is the department chairman and associate professor of Public Health at California Baptist University. Dr. Ginny Ehrlich is the CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Dr. Vignetta Charles is the CEO of Education, Training, and Research (ETR).
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