Changes in Abstinence Grants Draw Suspicion

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ latest request for proposals for its Abstinence Only grants increases the grant period from three years to five, even though the program is only authorized for one more year. Is the change designed so that Republican staffers at HHS can dictate who gets the grants long into the next administration, be it Republican or Democratic? Or it is an attempt to co-opt the states to force continuation of a program that may not have the support of the incoming president?

The abstinence programs aren’t all that popular with the states, partly because of uncertainty over federal funding, including the need for states to provide a 43 percent match. But the states are also having problems discerning whether the program’s effectiveness merits their contributions. Almost half the states declined the grants in the most recent budget cycle.

Kenneth J. Wolfe, acting deputy director for public affairs of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, said in an interview that the length and some of the requirements of the abstinence grants are being changed to allow for more evaluation of the programs.

“Fifteen per cent of the grant must go toward evaluative measures,” Wolfe said.

In another change, the amount of the grants will be reduced. The largest will be about $600,000, down from an $800,000 maximum. The amount a state is eligible for depends on its population. But there will be more grants, Wolfe said.

Delacey Skinner, spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine (D), said Kaine’s decision to withdraw from the grants program early last year was based on reports that the abstinence programs are “not effective.”

“I can’t imagine he’ll change his mind, just because the funding is more consistent,” Skinner said.

The grant winners are to be announced Sept. 30.



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