On Friday, the House passed a Fiscal Year 2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill and once again proved that it has become politically acceptable to throw the needs of adolescents under the bus in order to score a few political points. If passed, the bill will cut $10 million from the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (CDC-DASH) while simultaneously bringing back abstinence-only-until-marriage funding.
DASH has the broad mission of promoting “the health and well-being of children and adolescents to enable them to become healthy and productive adults.” It works to prevent risk behaviors that often develop in childhood and adolescence including unhealthy eating, inadequate physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use, sexual behavior, and behaviors that contribute to unintentional injury and violence.
Over the years, DASH has been integral to efforts to prevent HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy in young people. It has a proven success record and frequently works with large, urban school districts which serve communities of color and see higher rates HIV and AIDS as well as high levels of poverty. And yet, Congress is cutting its funding (by 25 percent mind you) just a little over a year after the Obama administration released its historic HIV/AIDS Strategy which highlights the role that poverty and health care disparities play in the HIV epidemic.
But lest you worry that Congress has given up on HIV, STD, and teen pregnancy prevention entirely, the bill resurrects that oldie-but-goodie: abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. That’s right just when you thought we were done pouring money into programs that have been proven ineffective, an earmark attached to this bill resurrects the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program. The program—which distributed well over half-a-billion taxpayer dollars during its lifespan—was eliminated in Fiscal Year 2010 for the simple reason that it didn’t work. It turns out that teaching young people that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects” is not particularly effective in keeping them from getting pregnant or contracting an STD. But apparently it still makes a good political sound bite and an easy bone to throw to the Far Right.
As Monica Rodriguez, president of SIECUS put it in a statement: “At a time when Members of Congress are climbing over each other to prove that they are more fiscally conservative than the next, it is beyond comprehension they would cut funding for evidence-based programs in favor of funding for programs that the federal government’s own study proved simply do not work.”