Federal Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding
A Brief History of Federal
Government funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is not new. In fact, the federal government has poured tax-payer money into such programs for over a quarter century.
Beginning in 1981 under the Reagan Administration, the federal government has consistently supported abstinence-only-until-marriage programs despite a lack of research proving that they are effective. Funding for these unproven programs has grown exponentially since 1996. Between 1996 and federal Fiscal Year 2008, Congress funneled over $1.5 billion dollars (through both federal and state matching funds) to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. (See Funding Chart for more information.)
For Fiscal Year 2008, the federal government allocated $176 million through three separate funding streams for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. For Fiscal Year 2009, the total amount allocated was just over $160 million.
The Three Funding Streams for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs
Adolescent Family Life Act
The Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) was quietly signed into law in 1981 as Title XX of the Public Health Service Act without hearings or floor votes in the U.S. Congress. In addition to providing support for pregnant and parenting teens, AFLA was established to promote “chastity” and “self-discipline.”
The program has always had a pregnancy-prevention component aimed at discouraging premarital sexual behavior among teens. Since Fiscal Year 1997, however, funds within AFLA were explicitly tied to the more stringent eight-point definition of “abstinence education” found in the Title V abstinence-only program and, therefore, to a stricter interpretation of what must be taught. Since its inception, AFLA has received more than $125 million. For Fiscal Year 2008, AFLA’s funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is $13 million. This funding level remained the same for Fiscal Year 2009.
Title V—Welfare Reform Act
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act (TANF), better known as “welfare reform,” was signed into law in 1996. The welfare reform law added Title V, Section 510(b) of the Social Security Act which established a new funding stream to provide grants to states for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Similar to AFLA, this program was enacted quietly, without public or legislative debate.
Under the Title V abstinence-only program, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allocates $50 million in federal funds each year to the states. States that choose to accept these funds must match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars and are then responsible for using the funds or distributing them to community-based organizations, schools, county and state health departments, media campaigns, or other entities. Every state, with the exception of California, has at one time accepted Title V abstinence-only funds. Currently, nearly half the states no longer participate in this program.
With the passage of the Title V abstinence-only program came an eight-point federal definition of “abstinence education.” All programs that receive abstinence-only-until-marriage funds must adhere to this definition which specifies, in part, that “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of all human sexual activity” and that “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.” Because the first element requires that Title V-funded abstinence-only programs have as their “exclusive purpose” promoting abstinence outside of marriage, programs may not in any way advocate contraceptive use or discuss contraceptive methods except to emphasize their failure rates. In addition, as of Fiscal Year 2007, states must “meaningfully represent each” element of the definition.
Fiscal Year 2007 brought with it another worrisome change for Title V-funded programs; the program must focus on individuals ages 12–29.Historically, the program announcement did not specify the age of intended participants, allowing many states to choose to focus on the importance of delaying sexual initiation among young people ages 9–14. This new focus on older youth and, indeed, those who no longer fall within the category of “youth” at all, goes against common sense. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, over 90% of people ages 20 to 29 have had sexual intercourse. Censoring information about how they can protect themselves is both bad public health practice and a violation of basic rights.
Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage was originally authorized for five years, 1998–2002. This program was officially reauthorized in July 2008 for a 12-month extension and will receive $50 million in federal funds for Fiscal Year 2009. Current authorization expires June 30, 2009.
Community-Based Abstinence Education
In October 2000, the federal government created yet another funding stream to support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Under this third funding stream, originally known as Special Projects of Regional and National Significance–Community-Based Abstinence Education (SPRANS–CBAE), the federal government awards grants directly to state and local organizations. Until Fiscal Year 2005, SPRANS–CBAE was administered within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Beginning in Fiscal Year 2005, however, this funding stream was moved to HHS’ more conservative Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and is now referred to simply as Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE).
Whereas under Title V abstinence-only funding, states ultimately decide which programs receive funding, all decisions regarding CBAE funding bypass the state approval process entirely. Instead, HHS awards grants directly to community-based organizations. Programs funded under CBAE are required to teach all eight points in the federal government’s definition of “abstinence education.”
These more restrictive standards were clearly an attempt by conservative lawmakers to gain greater control of funding. In fact, certain lawmakers have sought to prevent money from supporting media campaigns, youth development, and after-school programs, arguing that such programs dilute the abstinence message, do not sufficiently focus on marriage, and violate the intent of Title V’s eight-point “abstinence education” definition.
In fact, in early 2006, ACF released a new funding announcement for CBAE programs. With this call for new proposals, ACF promulgated a series of assaults on logic, science, and individual dignity, and CBAE programs have become that much more ideologically driven.
The new funding announcement views sexual abstinence prior to marriage as the magic elixir to a more perfect life. Sexual abstinence before marriage is credited with leading to a happier life, including having a healthier marriage, having more money, having healthier future children, being more “responsible” parents, being honorable and having integrity, attaining a better education, having fewer psychological disorders, avoiding drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, committing fewer crimes and staying out of prison, and having a longer life span. The problem with ACF’s proclamations, however, is that they have no basis in sound evidence and very little grasp on the reality endured by the vast majority of America’s youth.
Funding for CBAE began in Fiscal Year 2001 at $20 million. By Fiscal Year 2006, CBAE increased over 450% to a total of $113 million. The funding remained at this level through Fiscal Year 2008. Fiscal Year 2009 marked the first-ever cut to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs—a cut of $14.2 million to the CBAE program. The total funding for CBAE in Fiscal Year 2009 is $99 million.
Additional Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs
These three specific funding streams, however, do not represent the total amount of money spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Additional funding for these programs has been allocated through a variety of federal funding vehicles. For example, in Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005 Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) earmarked over $3 million in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in his home state of Pennsylvania. Senator Specter’s Fiscal Year 2008 earmarks totaled close to three-quarters of a million and just over half a million dollars for Fiscal Year 2009. Conservative organizations such as the Abstinence Clearinghouse and the Medical Institute (formerly known as the Medical Institute for Sexual Health), have also received funds specially earmarked by Congress. Abstinence-only-until-marriage providers are also receiving funds through traditional HIV/AIDS and STD prevention accounts such as those administered by HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).