The Trump administration cut more than $200 million from teen pregnancy prevention programs and research across the country last week. It was a surprise to a lot of people on the receiving end of those grants – including many here in Texas, where teen pregnancy is a big problem.
“Texas has the highest number of teen parents than any other state. We are the fifth highest rate of teen pregnancies," said Dr. Gwen Daverth, CEO and president of the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "And we, as a state, do very little to prevent it in terms of funding.”
Texas also takes the No. 1 spot for repeat teen pregnancies.
Daverth said federal money has been the main source of funding for “evidence-based programs” in the state; that is, programs that have been proved through rigorous research to do what they say: prevent teen pregnancies.
"Our state only pulls down abstinence-until-marriage funding," she said, "and we use that money for programs that do not have that rigorous evidence behind them.”
During the Obama administration, health officials prioritized evidence-based programs, but Texas continued to focus efforts on programs experts say aren’t as effective at reducing teen pregnancy.
Jenifer DeAtley, a director with EngenderHealth, works on programs in Travis County that got a five-year grant under the Obama administration.
In particular, the program does sex education for students in charter schools. DeAtley said the program is reaching out to students who are receiving minimal services through their schools.
“They're also young people … along the East Side of Travis County,” she said. “That is where we're looking at the highest rates of unplanned teen pregnancies in our county. And so we're really trying to serve those youths.”
DeAtley said the federal government has already invested $2 million into the program. The grant EngenderHealth got was supposed to be in place for the next three years, but Trump administration officials told the organization it will have funding only for the year. DeAtley said Central Texas will lose $4.6 million over the coming years.
“Part of stopping this program is also pulling these resources and financial income right out of the pockets of the teens that we're working with,” she said.
DeAtley said she hopes she can find alternative funding locally before the grant runs out, but she’s concerned that federal money will be shifted to abstinence-only programs.
Daverth said it’s unclear whether or how some of the existing programs will survive.
“This was a very instrumental program for getting information into the communities who have already exhibited the need for it and do not have alternative ways to get that information,” she said. “And so that’s just going to be gone.”
The cuts also affected similar programs in El Paso, San Antonio, Dallas and Alice, Texas.