Congress approved another emergency 90-day extension for a contentious grant program to support abstinence-only education ahead of the September 30 fiscal year deadline. Spared de-funding after an earlier reprieve in June, Title V, Section 510 funding is not without controversy.
This summer's legislative sausage-making to either modify or de-fund the program entirely has pitted reproductive health groups against one another into camps of "no funding" hardliners and "work with the Congress you've got" consensus-builders.
In a strongly worded statement today from Advocates for Youth president James Wagoner said:
First, Congress funds the abstinence-only programs. Then, they commission a study that showed the ineffectiveness of the programs. Then, they ignore the findings of the study. And, now, they continue to fund the programs. Their actions defy logic and common sense.
By failing to eliminate abstinence-only programs, the Democratic leadership has signaled that, in their minds, political expediency trumps the health and well-being of America's youth.
Throughout the legislative wrangling last summer, Advocates for Youth criticized Rep. John Dingell's (D-Michigan) attempt to modify rather than yank the funding of Title V days after the first emergency 30-day funding extension was granted on July 1.
As noted in an earlier story, HR 3162 attempted to address shortcomings in the previous grant requirements by requiring medically and scientifically accurate curricula, broadening the lessons to include discussions on birth control methods, and mandating that the programs prove they reduce pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS rates.
Those provisions were stripped from the Senate version last week that were tacked onto the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which is facing a presidential veto. Once again, Title V's continued funding was on shaky ground as the first extension expires on September 30.
The current bill that passed both chambers on Thursday night simply extends funding for an additional 90 days through Dec. 31 without the grant guideline modifications. Dingell expressed his disappointment on the House floor:
On August 1st of this year, the House of Representatives passed legislation which made significant and responsible changes to the abstinence-only education programs. The House-passed legislation would have provided states with the flexibility to offer programs best suited to the needs and desires of their citizens and it would have ensured that federal funds were being spent on effective programs that provide medically accurate information.
Sadly, those changes are not incorporated into the bill before us today because opponents of the House-passed abstinence language decided to hold hostage the important reauthorizations of TMA and Q1, in an effort to ensure that no improvements were made to the discredited abstinence-only programs.
Because it is absolutely necessary that we reauthorize TMA and Q1, the abstinence-only education changes were sacrificed … for now. Let me be clear: I am dismayed that the House-passed abstinence-only language was omitted from this legislation and I will continue to fight for those important, responsible, and necessary changes in the coming months."
William Smith, vice president for public policy for Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS) , echoed Rep. Dingell's remarks. "Politics interceded here but we're going to continue to push for a fix." Smith continued, "We'd like to see abstinence-only funding go away but that's not how Congress works. So we're trying to bring some consensus to the process."
Cheering the news is the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). "The extension for Abstinence Education reveals the bi-partisan support for this best health message," said executive director Valerie Huber. "While extremely helpful, the short-term extension makes it challenging for states to implement the program. Abstinence education providers need sustained funding for a minimum of one year in order to assure a dependable and consistent operation of their programs."
Known by its none-descript name Title V, Section 510, is one of three established federal funding streams for abstinence-only programs and the only one in which states have decision-making authority on grantees. The other two money pots — Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) — are direct federal grants to school districts, health departments, and nonprofit organizations.
According to NAEA, approximately 900 school and community-based programs are funded nationwide with Title V dollars. However, Colorado's chunk is quite small representing a mere 14 percent of all its federally-funded abstinence-only support while other states, like Iowa, depend exclusively on the funding pool for their programs.