Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty landed three punches to the people of the state this week.
First he rejected federal funding for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which would have provided nearly $1 million in federal funding to the state for comprehensive sex education.
At the same time, he accepted federal monies for abstinence-only initiatives.
On Tuesday, he released an Executive Order barring state agencies from submitting any applications to the federal government in connection with requests for grant funding for programs and projects connected with the federal health care reform bill.
The effect is to deny people access to $1 billion in desperately needed health-care dollars, including nearly $1 million in teen pregnancy and STI prevention dollars, while bringing in $500,000 (with $379,000 required from the state) for failed abstinence-only programs.
You can do the math, but you can’t begin to calculate the damage.
Governor Pawlenty’s executive order could close the door to more than 100 federal health care grants that would fund myriad vitally important projects, including teen pregnancy prevention; postpartum care for new mothers; maternal, infant and early childhood home visitation programs; childhood obesity prevention, and tighter regulation of insurance companies, just to name a few.
Among the victims would be the elderly, teens, both the poor and middle class, those in high-risk insurance groups, rural Minnesotans, the mentally ill, new moms and newborns.
Minnesota needs these health care dollars. Earlier this year, the state Health Department released new figures indicating an alarming increase in HIV infections among young Minnesotans. The number of new cases increased by 13 percent in 2009, marking a 17-year high. This news came on the heels of annual increases in the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) over the past decade. Chlamydia, for example, is now the No. 1 reported communicable disease in the state. Read the full report here.
Studies show that nearly half of all Minnesota teens are sexually active by their senior year. It’s not fiscally sound or morally responsible to deny these teens the information they need to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of infections that can lead to infertility and chronic illness.
Instead of addressing these problems, Pawlenty is focusing on advancing his personal presidential ambitions. For the past eight years, we’ve seen Minnesota lose its pioneering edge and move to the back of the line. Sadly, the steepest price for Pawlenty’s political gamesmanship will be paid by Minnesota’s young people.