Congress Moves Closer to Significant Increases in Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding

As in recent years, Congress has once again failed to approve the spending bills it needs for the start of the new fiscal year. The new fiscal year (FY 2005) started on October 1 but Congress has continued funding at Fiscal Year 2004 levels by passage of a bill called a continuing resolution. While the final numbers for FY 2005 are not yet known, preliminary numbers show significant increases for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs while the nation's family planning program may see just a small increase.

The President called for a doubling of federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in his budget which requested $273 million in FY 2005 to be distributed among the three federal funding streams. The greatest increase in the President's budget was designated to the strictest stream-the Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program for which President Bush requested $186 million. In Fiscal Year 2004, that grant program received $75 million.

While the President's request was not fulfilled by his own party's leaders in either the House or the Senate, both chambers made significant increases in abstinence-only-until-marriage funding.

The House of Representatives has passed its Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill (H.R. 5006) with the following amounts for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs: the Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program received $110 million, the abstinence-only-until-marriage portion of the Adolescent Family Life Act received $13 million, and Title V (the entitlement account authorized in conjunction with welfare) received $50 million. The House bill thus has a total of $173 million allotted to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. This is an increase of $35 million (all in the community grants funding stream) from Fiscal Year 2004.

While the full Senate has not yet passed its Labor-HHS appropriations bill (S. 2810), the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed the following amounts for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs: the Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program received $105 million, the abstinence-only-until-marriage portion of the Adolescent Family Life Act received $17 million, and Title V received $50 million. The Senate bill thus has a total of $172 million allotted to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. This is an increase of $34 million over Fiscal Year 2004 levels, with the increases to only the community-based grants and the Adolescent Family Life Act. The Senate Committee also approved an additional $2.5 million for a national abstinence education campaign.

"There were very few increases this year in funding across the board. On the Senate side the increases to abstinence-only-until-marriage funding are some of the largest in terms of percentages this year," said Bill Smith, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. "These programs have not performed well and some, in fact, may be causing harm yet Congress keeps increasing their funding for political purposes. Sadly, the victims are our young people who are deprived of programs that are proven to work-those that include information about both abstinence and contraception."

In contrast, Title X, the nation's family planning program which is also funded in the Labor-HHS appropriations bills, will see modest if any increases. The House flat-funded Title X at $278 million but the Senate included an increase to $308 million.

It is worth noting that both the community-based abstinence education grants (formerly known as Special Projects of Regional and National Significance-Community-Based Abstinence Education or SPRANS-CBAE) and the Title V account are now housed in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) rather than in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) where they have been since the programs' inceptions.

Within ACF, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Wade Horn, a conservative Bush appointee, will administer the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Prior to his appointment, Horn served as president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a conservative organization that promotes father involvement.

Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education have expressed concern at the re-delegation of the programs, fearing that under ACF the abstinence-only-until-marriage money will be used to promote heterosexual marriage rather than public health. Indeed, Horn sees abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as integral to the President's marriage promotion initiative. Addressing the far right's World Congress of Families in March 2004, Horn said, "Of course, if our young people are going to avoid becoming parents before marriage, the best way for them to accomplish that is to be sexually abstinent until marriage. That is why President Bush also has proposed dramatic increases in funding for abstinence education programs… If we succeed in implementing this vision, we will succeed in strengthening marriages and families for years to come."1

Traditionally, HRSA has overseen federal health programs, including HIV/AIDS-prevention and treatment programs and rural and minority health programs while ACF has administered social and economic family programs, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), foster care, adoption assistance, and Head Start. Adding to health advocates' concerns, ACF is also a relatively new department within HHS and under the current Bush administration has assumed responsibility for the administration's more ideologically-driven conservative pet programs. Key priorities on the ACF website include the Faith-Based and Community Initiative, the Healthy Marriage Initiative, and the Fatherhood Initiative.

"Secretary Thompson has effectively taken these programs out of the hands of public health professionals and moved them to a department with greater ideological adherence," said Bill Smith. "Not only does this raise concerns about evaluation and oversight, but it also confirms what we have been saying for some time: abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have nothing to do with public health and everything to do with politics and ideology," Smith continued.

References

  1. W. Horn, "My Family Story," address to the World Congress of Families, Mexico City, Mexico, March 29-31 2004. Accessed online.

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