Trump Just Cut Funding to The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Even Though It Works

5359438During his administration Obama created the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, a program that funds organizations that work to prevent teen pregnancy throughout the U.S. The programs costs about $100 million per year and reaches 1 million teens in 40 states and territories. The TPP program funds 81 different organizations through 5 year grants. However, last month the Trump administration decided to cut funding, meaning that these 5 year grants are now three year grants set to end in 2018 as opposed to 2020. The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has only recently offered a reason for the cuts stating that it was due to, “very weak evidence of positive impact of these programs.” In light of this news, these organizations are scrambling for funding and critics have opposed this move made by the Trump administration offering numerous amounts of statistics and evidence that this program is effective.

Overall, teen pregnancies in the U.S. have been steadily declining for the past 25 years hitting historic lows just in the last 10 years alone. However, a major problem for health officials was the difficulty in determining the factors contributing to this decline. Researchers have pointed out that birth control accessibility, sex education in schools and at home, and the fact that many women are having babies later in life can account for the lower teen pregnancy rates. However, there were no actual studies to identify approaches that led to the drop in teen pregnancy rates. The TPP program put into place by the Obama Administration was meant to address that through evaluating sex education programs. The programs funded by the grants (from the HHS) showed why certain programs were better than others in reaching adolescents.

Cutting funding to this program just as positive results were coming to light is counterproductive to the main goal, which is reducing rates of teen pregnancy. Without funding, these programs won’t be able to reach a vast amount of adolescents thereby leaving many teenagers, especially girls without a comprehensive sex education. Take the example of Latavia Burton, age 14. Her mother was 18 when she had her and her best friend became pregnant at 16. When a pregnancy prevention program in her school and neighborhood came, she learned many valuable things. Latavia is still a virgin, but she is planning to get an intrauterine device inserted at a clinic she learned about from the program. She also learned that while this device protects from unplanned pregnancy, it won’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases. She said that she could, “just go to the teen clinic and get some [condoms] for free” if a boy said that he couldn’t afford any.

Latavia is a prime example of how these teen pregnancies programs help to educate teens not only about sex, but where they can go to get resources (condoms, birth control, etc.) should they decided to have sex. While, Latavia doesn’t represent how all teens react to sex education, she is an example of how these programs can be effective in preventing teen pregnancy.

In Baltimore the teen birth rate is three times higher than the national average, and they stand to lose $3.5 million in funds. Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen has said, “We don’t have another way to fill this deficit. This will leave a huge hole in our ability to deliver health education.” This means that 20,000 fewer adolescents will have access to sex education and other resources which leaves Baltimore in a very precarious position.

The issue about cutting funding is not only about how many adolescents are educated, but also if these programs decrease the teen pregnancy rate. As mentioned before, the reason given by the HHS for the cuts was that there wasn’t enough evidence of the positive impact these programs have on teens. This reasoning is illogical as the whole point of the program and the grants were not only to educate but to research the factors that contribute to decreasing teen pregnancy rates and which programs are effective in contributing to that.

For example, Seattle and King County schools in Washington were trying to determine if their sex education program, FLASH, caused students to abstain from sex or if those who did have sex used condoms or birth control methods. Patty Hayes, the region’s public health director has said, “We won’t have the funding to gather the final data and analyze the results.” The cut to the TPP program is preventing the analysis of data collected in the first few years of the grant.

Another example is the research grants that the TPP program funded at Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at San Francisco and other institutions. Because the grants are getting cut early, researchers won’t be able to finish their studies thereby making the first few years of collected data invalid. It makes no sense that the Trump administration is cutting funding to research grants midway through for not showing enough results when the time agreed to conduct this research has not been reached. Granted, research projects and  programs are cut all the time due to not producing results, but that happens after the deadline has been reached. Cutting funding to the TPP program two years ahead of schedule helps neither the programs nor adolescents who benefit from these programs.

Despite the grants being cut short, the TPP program has garnered successful results. The TPP program has a list of successful strategies from over 20 states. One of which being the Champs! Program from the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. The program used a “relationship skills planning tool” called Love Notes. The pregnancy rates of these teens that participated were compared to state and national pregnancy rates by the grant-funded study. The study showed the information as followed:

“National Teen Pregnancy Rate (2011): 52 per 1,000 females age 15-19

Kentucky’s Teen Pregnancy Rate (2011): 59 per 1,000 females age 15-19

Kentucky’s African American Teen Pregnancy Rate (2010): 84 per 1,000 African     American females age 15-19

Pregnancy rate of teens participating in Love Notes: 30 per 1000 females ages 15-19”

The Love Notes program showed a roughly 50% decrease in teen pregnancy rates from the state and national averages. The HHS website, which has the successful strategies list from the TPP program, has details of the programs used in several states and their effects. Also, when the program started in 2010 the teen pregnancy rate was around 34 per 1,000 teenage girls aged 15-19. By 2015 the rate had dropped to 22 per 1,000.

Now that funding has been cut, it’s unclear whether the Trump administration will provide an alternative to these programs, and if the alternative will be abstinence only programs. Either way, this move has shown that the Trump administration as critics have said, “is choosing ideology over science.” With the Congress filled with conservatives who are unsupportive of women’s reproductive rights and cuts to the TPP program which was starting to show its effectiveness, teens are in a difficult place now. Health officials wrote a letter to HHS secretary Tom Price to reconsider cutting funding since Congress has not yet passed the 2018 budget appropriations bill. They wrote, “Cutting TPPP funding and shortening the project period will not only reverse historic gains made in the U.S. in reducing teen pregnancy rates, but also make it difficult to truly understand what practices are most effective in our communities across the nation.” Cutting funding could reverse the positive effects the TPP program has already had, and cutting funding to a grant before the deadline is up is counterintuitive to the goals that the programs were meant to achieve.

The Trump administration should have at least waited until the five years on the grants were up so that they could judge the program’s effectiveness after all the data had been collected and analyzed. If they had waited, these programs wouldn’t be scrambling for more funding that was already promised to them, and it would have ensured that the millions of dollars already put into the TPP program would not have been wasted. This isn’t to say that educating teens in the last few years wasn’t worth the cost, but the research aspect of the program and all the money put into it will have been wasted as researchers won’t be able to finish their studies and share them with health officials and educators.

 

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