In his State of the Union address, President Bush recommitted federal resources to unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and pledged to double their funding in Fiscal Year 2005 (FY05). "To encourage right choices, we must be willing to confront the dangers young people face-even when they're difficult to talk about. Each year, about 3 million teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases that can harm them, or kill them, or prevent them from ever becoming parents. In my budget, I propose a grassroots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks," President Bush said. "We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases."1
True to his word, the President's FY05 budget proposal, released February 2, requests approximately $273 million for "abstinence education grants,"2 up from $141 million in Fiscal Year 2004 (FY04). This number could further increase if Congress earmarks additional funds for specific abstinence-only-until-marriage programs during its budgeting process, as has been done in the past. (Such earmarks totaled over $3 million in FY04.)
The President's budget request also consolidated most of the abstinence-only-until-marriage funds under the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), moving them out of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). ACF will now administer "community-based abstinence education grants" totaling approximately $182 million. (While administered by HRSA, these grants were known as Special Projects of Regional and National Significance - Community-Based Abstinence Education grants and were funded at $75 million in FY04). An additional $4.5 million allocated to ACF will provide for evaluations of adolescent pregnancy prevention approaches.
Advocates of reproductive and sexual health expressed concern that this move may have been based, at least in part, on the fact that Wade Horn, a longtime supporter of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, is the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families within ACF.
ACF will now also administer abstinence-only-until-marriage funds provided by Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act (popularly known as Title V programs). First passed in 1996 with the Welfare Reform Law, the Title V program provided $50 million per year for five years. Reauthorization of the program is long overdue, but in his FY05 budget President Bush extended funding for another five years, maintaining the current annual level of $50 million.
The President's budget request also doubles abstinence-only-until-marriage funding under the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA, Title XX of the Public Health Service Act) from $13 million in FY04 to $26 million in FY05.
Finally, President Bush also established a new $10 million "national abstinence education campaign" called "Responsible Choices" within the Office of the HHS Secretary.
Totaling the abstinence-only-until-marriage program funding for FY05; $186.5 for "community-based abstinence education grants" (including funding for evaluations), $50 million for Title V, $26 million for AFLA, and $10 for the new "Responsible Choices" campaign, brings the President's FY05 request to approximately $273 million.
Since 1996, federal and state funding of these programs has totaled $899 million. This year, government funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs will top more than one billion dollars.
"In a time of a record budget deficit, a jobless economic recovery, and the war in Iraq, the president's proposal to double funding for these programs clearly demonstrates that political opportunism in an election year will come at the expense of our nation's young people," said Tamara Kreinin, President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS).
According to the Los Angeles Times, Assistant Secretary Horn said that the additional money for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs came from ineffective welfare-related programs aimed at reducing out-of-wedlock births that had demonstrated "very little evidence" that they were "changing behavior."3
Opponents of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs argue, however, that these programs also have yet to show any positive success in changing young people's sexual behaviors.
"Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs put our young people at risk. Not only have these programs never been proven effective, but they prohibit life-saving information on condom and contraceptive use," Kreinin said. "With this move, President Bush has once again turned a blind eye to the health needs of our young people and has allowed ideology and politics to triumph over science," Kreinin said.
Now, it is up to Congress to review the President's FY05 requests by formulating their own FY05 budget resolution. SIECUS will continue to report on FY05 budget developments as they unfold.
- From The White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040120-7.html.
- From the FY05 budget, section on Health and Human Services, http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2005/hhs.html.
- J. Gerstenzang, "President Bush's Budget Plan; More Money Urged to Foster Abstinence; Bush proposes a boost in education for teens and an initiative to promote marriage," Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2004.