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Congress Resurrects Community-Based Abstinence Education Program; Slashes Funding for HIV Prevention Education

In the waning days of the 2011 calendar year, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, a bill to fund the majority of government agencies and their operations for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2012, which commenced on October 1, 2011. Negotiations on the bill came close to breaking down over the possible inclusion of an extension of the payroll tax holiday; however, lawmakers chose to consider that matter separately, a move that cleared the path to passage. After lawmakers focused solely on funding levels, negotiations over the FY 2012 appropriations package proceeded with relatively little commotion—a stark contrast to the rancorous battles over funding for the previous Fiscal Year.
Comprehensive sexuality education advocates were dealt two blows in the spending package—the return of discretionary abstinence-only-until-marriage funding and a $10 million cut to the Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the bill included funding for the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) equal to its Fiscal Year 2011 level of $105 million, it also resurrected the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program that was discontinued in Fiscal Year 2010.
The $10 million cut that DASH sustained slashed one quarter of the program’s budget. Since it was instituted two decades ago, DASH has worked with schools to build the infrastructure necessary to provide a coordinated approach to school health education and give educators the tools they need to instruct students in preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy. This drastic cut in funding—to a program that has not seen a budget increase in over ten years—will hamper the division’s ability to provide vital training, resources and technical assistance to teachers working with 71 state, local, tribal and territorial education agencies. Funding levels for other HIV-prevention activities at the CDC were left intact, but those programs may yet experience cuts as the legislation mandates a .189% rescission for the overall budget of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The final FY 2012 bill included $5 million of dedicated discretionary funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. While $5 million to resurrect the CBAE program represents a miniscule portion of the federal budget—roughly the amount of money the government spends each 45 seconds—history clearly shows that such programs, once established, can rapidly balloon. Only $20 million was allocated for CBAE when it was instituted in Fiscal Year 2001, but its funding surpassed $100 million only four years later. By the time President Barack Obama and Congress terminated CBAE in FY 2010, the federal government had provided almost a half billion taxpayer dollars for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that have repeatedly been proven ineffective at reducing or delaying adolescent sexual activity. The resurrected abstinence-only-until-marriage program, like its predecessor, requires that funded programs adhere to the strict eight-point definition of “abstinence education” in Title V, Section 510 of the Social Security Act. As such, programs must exclusively teach the “social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity” and that “abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage [is] the expected standard for all school age children.”[1]
“At a time when Members of Congress are climbing over each other to prove that they are more fiscally conservative then 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,” comments Monica Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “These cuts are quite simply telling young people that Congress doesn’t care about them, their health, or their lives. Congress and the Obama administration must stop playing politics with the health and lives of our nation’s young people.”
Other than the cut to DASH, many programs dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention and care received level or increased funding compared to Fiscal Year 2011. The $10 million reduction in DASH funding was the only cut sustained by HIV prevention efforts at the CDC, which received $790 million. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program largely was flat-funded, but the AIDS Drug Assistance Plan received a $15 million increase.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, contains several other provisions that likely will prove detrimental to the health of many of the most vulnerable Americans. Funding for the Title X family planning program, which provides lower-income men and women with services to help them avoid unintended pregnancy, was cut by $10 million. The program—which provides vital health services to over five million people each year, such as family planning counseling and medication as well as screening and treatment of breast and cervical cancers—has recently become a target for Republicans in the House of Representatives, who proposed eliminating the program in Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012.
In addition to funding cuts, the legislation contained numerous “policy riders,” tools employed by legislators to exploit the appropriations process to enact ideologically driven laws that eliminate or place restrictions on funding for programs they find objectionable. Following its reinstatement after a contentious battle during the FY 2011 appropriations process, a policy rider banning the District of Columbia from utilizing local taxpayer dollars to provide abortion services for lower-income women was extended for another year. The legislation also included a policy rider banning public and private entities from using federal funding for syringe exchange programs that allow injection drug users to obtain sterile hypodermic needles rather than sharing needles that could possibly be contaminated with the blood of individuals carrying HIV or other bloodborne infections. These programs also collect used syringes and provide substance abuse cessation services and support. They have been proven to reduce HIV transmission rates while not increasing use of illegal drugs.

[1] Social Security Act , 42 U.S.C. §§ 710(b)(2)(A)–(B) (2010), accessed 17 January 2012, <>.