January 6, 1998 in Nation/World

Abstinence-Only Funds Going Astray? Gop Congressman Questions States’ Adherence To Sex Education Guidelines

Associated Press
 

A top congressional Republican is complaining that states may be dodging a mandate that $50 million for sex education be used for abstinence-only programs.

“It is imperative that the guidelines used by the Department (of Health and Human Services) to approve applications are consistent with the letter and spirit of the legislation,” Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., chairman of the House Commerce Committee, wrote HHS Secretary Donna Shalala.

The letter, released Monday, notes that some states plan to use the money for after-school programs, without any effort to tell children not to have sex. Other states, the letter says, may be using their matching money to distribute information about birth control.

After highly charged debates in many states over whether to accept the money with its restrictions, every state applied and every application was approved. The money was released in November; states are required to spend $3 for every $4 in federal money.

The program was quietly approved as part of the 1996 welfare overhaul, with $50 million per year set aside for five years.

In his letter, Bliley asked Shalala to provide extensive documentation of state plans and the criteria HHS used to evaluate them.

He also complained that an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent an e-mail message urging state officials to lobby their members of Congress to repeal the abstinence-only requirement. It is against the law for federal agencies to spend money on “grass-roots” lobbying efforts, Bliley noted.

Victor Zonana, an HHS spokesman, said officials were investigating the e-mail situation. He added that the department supports abstinence programs.

It was unclear if Bliley is upset about the HHS regulations governing the program or how they are being interpreted.

The law has eight objectives, including teaching that sex outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects, and that abstinence from sex outside marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children.

An Associated Press survey of states this summer showed that many planned to target younger children and run media campaigns and mentoring programs - where teachers won’t be put in an uncomfortable position if a 16-year-old asks about birth control.

About half the states are planning programs that meet the law’s stricter interpretation, and the other half are spending money on mentoring programs and other alternatives, said Debra Haffner, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which opposed the abstinence-only restrictions.

Her group advised states to reject the money or, if they took it, to run programs that do not conflict with birth control information.

“We said to the states, ‘Abstain. But if you’re not going to abstain, act responsibly,”’ she said. “It’s the same advice I give to kids.”

The theory behind the after-school programs is that children who are involved with something positive are less likely to have sex or use drugs and alcohol, which can lead to sex.

Haffner said a council survey of state plans shows 20 states are targeting children younger than 14, with most others targeting older teenagers. A few are targeting adults, implementing the law’s objective to discourage any sex outside marriage.

The council’s survey of plans also found 32 states planning a media campaign such as Michigan’s “Sex Can Wait” effort. Forty states plan to give grants to youth- and communitybased organizations.

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Objectives

The sex education mandate has eight objectives, including teaching that sex outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects, and that abstinence from sex outside marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children. Other approved topics include how to reject sexual advances, why drugs and alcohol make that more difficult, and the importance of becoming self-sufficient before having sex.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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