Congress shouldn't cut funds for teen pregnancy prevention
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This op-ed, originally published by The Hill, is written by our CEO, Ginny Ehrlich. 

Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) abruptly cut short grants to more than 80 institutions and organizations nationwide to prevent teen pregnancy through the aptly named Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program.

These grants supported evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programming for young people most at risk for an unplanned pregnancy. Needless to say, this sudden action will have a devastating impact on young people and communities. In addition, HHS circumvented Congress by notifying grantees that their funding would end next year before Congress even started its work on the fiscal 2018 appropriations process.

By telling grantees that their projects will terminate on June 30, 2018, HHS is taking the extraordinary step of pre-empting Congress’ traditional role in determining what federal programs to fund and at what level. HHS’ decision not to fund the TPP Program raises several important questions:

 

What will HHS do with the funding if Congress appropriates TPP Program monies for fiscal 2018 as it has in every other year since 2010? While we are disappointed that the House Appropriations Committee did not fund the TPP Program in its fiscal 2018 LHHS appropriations bill, we hope that the Senate will do so.

Why is HHS cutting off a gold-standard example of evidence-based policymaking, in spite of the Trump Administration’s stated support for evidence-based approaches, not to mention bi-partisan support in Congress?

Why is the investment in these efforts being stripped mid-stream? The federal government has already spent millions — why not see the effort through in order to learn from the results? This move could be compared to building a skyscraper and halfway through the construction process abandoning the project. Not to mention that it is exactly the opposite of what a federal commitment to evidence looks like.  

Since the federal government began investing in evidence-based approaches to teen pregnancy prevention in 2010, declines in teen births have accelerated. In fact, the teen birth rate declined by 41 percent from 2010 to 2016 — a drop more than twice as large as the decline in any other 6 year period.  

The TPP Program is also helping to build a body of knowledge about what works to prevent teen pregnancy and incorporating what has been learned into current projects. Evaluations conducted during the first round of grants (fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2014) and released in 2016 found 12 evaluations (29 percent or 1 in 3) showed positive impacts.  

This is well above the 10 to 20 percent of randomized control trials that experts say typically demonstrate positive results. In addition, the 41 evaluations include 13 studies that were inconclusive because they experienced implementation and/or evaluation challenges such as too small a sample size — meaning the proportion of conclusive studies that showed positive impacts is even higher (43 percent).

So why would our government suddenly decide against investing in our nation’s youth by defunding programs such as the TPP Program? These are questions that Congress is now asking HHS.

There have been historic declines in teen pregnancy and childbearing. Still, there is much more work to do. Nearly one in four girls in the U.S. still become pregnant at least once by the age of 20, and great inequities in rates persist for young women of color and young women living in poverty. The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any industrialized country in the world.

The TPP Program has been lauded by independent experts as a stellar example of how to implement evidence-based policymaking — something that should be expanded, not cut. What’s more, national polling commissioned by The National Campaign shows that 85 percent of adults favor continuing the TPP program, including 75 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats. Dismantling this evidence-based program is short-sighted and in the end will harm hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable youth by denying them high quality information and education that would help them make healthy decisions about their futures.

Let’s urge Congress, the branch of government that determines how federal money is spent, to protect the current funding level and evidence-based approach of the TPP Program administered by the HHS Office of Adolescent Health. Why mess with success?