Bush Budget Offers Deaths and Resurrections

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President George Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 would gouge some youth programs to the point of extinction while boosting others and even creating new ones.

And in a few cases, the budget plan reflects a conflict between the president’s priorities to reward results and to encourage conservative moral values: It proposes reducing funds for youth employment and training programs that have demonstrated some effectiveness, while increasing funds for abstinence-only sex education programs that remain unproven.

The administration proposed reducing youth training programs in the Department of Labor (DOL) by $289 million. The biggest blow is aimed at Youth Opportunity Grants (YOG): Funded at $225 million in fiscal 2002, the administration proposed reducing YOG by 80 percent, to $44.5 million.

The grants are intended to provide comprehensive, long-term assistance to young people living in selected inner cities and high poverty areas, by helping them complete school and get and retain jobs. Applicants compete for grants.

The proposed spending level would fulfill the government’s commitment to fund 36 youth job sites around the country, but it eliminates the chances for cities that were unsuccessful in the first round of competition.

“It’s really a big blow to the people who have been working on this,” said Donna Walker James, senior program associate for the American Youth Policy Forum in Washington, D.C.

James and other youth work professionals blamed the demise of the program on unrealistic expectations from Congress, namely members of the Appropriations committees who wanted to see solid evidence of success before expanding it.

“They’ve only been operating a little over a year,” added David Brown, executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition. (Many of the YOG sites are members of the coalition.) Brown called the proposed cuts “the most troubling” aspect of the budget.

The administration, for its part, did not malign the program. The DOL’s budget explanation says the budget reduction “continues the phase-out of this effort begun in [fiscal] 2002” and that states can fund youth job centers through Workforce Investment Act grants.

However, the administration used more descriptive language in its budget proposal for Job Corps, calling it “effective.” Bush proposed increasing Job Corps funding by $73 million, to $1.53 billion.

Labor’s generic “Youth Activities” were also targeted by the administration, and face a reduction of $127 million from $1.2 billion in 2002.

More for Abstinence

As for sex education, Bush proposed increasing discretionary grants at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for sexual abstinence programs to $73 million, a $33 million boost. The proposal includes $50 million in mandatory funding for abstinence education grants to states and territories, and $12 million for abstinence education through the Adolescent Family Life Program administered by the Office of Population Affairs. All told, Bush proposed a total of $135 million for abstinence education.

But with little or no empirical evidence that abstinence-only education is effective, some youth workers questioned the large increase.

“It’s not that they don’t work, it’s that we don’t have the research yet,” said Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, based in Washington, D.C. “We support a strong abstinence message. We think it’s the best for teens.

On the flip side, we just don’t think the federal government is the best source to rigidly prescribe how the money is used. The jury is still out on abstinence education.”

Other groups were less diplomatic. Planned Parenthood, based in New York City, called the increase “an irresponsible and dangerous policy” at the expense of comprehensive sex education programs that have been proven effective. Advocates for Youth in Washington, D.C., said the administration “needs to pull its collective head out of the sand and fund programs that work.”

In his budget message to Congress, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said the proposed increase brings “equity to the message of abstinence and teen family-planning services.”

Besides, said Shepherd Smith of the Institute for Youth Development in Sterling, Va., “It’s not taking money away from other programs. It’s increasing the focus on the sexual health of our kids.”

Sighs of Relief

Other youth-service providers and researchers said they were surprised the domestic portion of the war-time budget was not more austere.

“A lot of people were bracing for cuts and they didn’t really come,” said John Sciamanna, a senior policy analyst with the Child Welfare League of America. He noted that proposed levels for many of the child-related programs are flat, with a few exceptions. “There’s some good things in the budget as far as child social services,” he said.

For example, Bush reintroduced his proposal to increase mandatory spending under the Safe and Stable Families Act by $200 million a year, raising it to $505 million. Bush was able to get a $70 million increase in discretionary funds in the last budget process, making his 2003 request a net increase of $130 million over current levels.

“There are not the deep cuts in the federal budget that we had feared,” said Sharon Daly, vice president for social policy at Catholic Charities USA, based in Alexandria, Va. Daly said she’s concerned by Bush’s proposal to flat-line funding for programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. “Costs are going to go up inevitably over the next five years, and if the amount of money is frozen, that means fewer people will get the kind of assistance they need to get out of poverty.”

The administration did recommend eliminating the DOL’s $55 million Responsible Reintegration for Young Offenders, saying that the “essential services” it provides could be covered by state grants.

In the Department of Education, Bush proposed adding $1 billion to special education and $1 billion for targeted grants to schools with high numbers of poor children. Most of the other major programs, including Safe and Drug-Free Schools and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, remain level.

But Bush raised the ire of Congress by proposing to rescind fiscal 2002 funding for 29 congressionally earmarked education programs, totaling about $803 million, in order to boost Pell grants for college students. In addition to those rescissions – to be implemented through a fiscal year 2002 supplemental appropriations bill – the administration proposed eliminating those 29 programs plus 11 more (mostly vocational and technical education programs) in 2003 to save another $1 billion.

Bush also unveiled a $560 million initiative for community service, the USA Freedom Corps. Some of the money would increase spending in established programs, such as the $230 million increase for AmeriCorps. (For more information on this program, see Web Watch.)

Contact: The president’s proposed budget is available at www.omb.gov.

The Ax Plan

President Bush proposes to rescind 2002 funding for 29 Department of Education programs, including:

• Rural education, $163 million.

• Smaller Learning Communities, $142.2 million.

• Physical Education for Progress,
$50 million.

• Underground Railroad, $2 million.

• Literacy programs for prisoners, $5 million.

•  Arts in Education, $30 million.

• Parental Assistance Information Centers, $40 million.

Trying Again

The president’s budget revives several proposals that Congress had previously rejected, including:

• Mentoring children of prisoners,
$25 million.

• Promoting responsible fatherhood, $20 million.

• Maternity group homes, $10 million.

• Education assistance for teens aging out of foster care, $60 million.