Youth Catalytics in Charlotte is losing $2.25 million in federal grant money because of looming budget cuts in programs for adolescent health and teen pregnancy prevention by the Trump administration.
The organization was caught completely by surprise when it was informed July 5 that its federal grant had been cut off as of June 30. The original grant in 2016 was for $2.8 million, awarded by the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health. It was expected to be paid out over a five-year period, but was rescinded after only a portion of the funds were received.
The nonprofit organization, which was established in 1981, works with nonprofits, state governments, communities and schools to reach at-risk and vulnerable adolescents to help avoid unintended pregnancy. It aims to improve communication with parents, foster care providers, teens and others. About 75 percent of teenage pregnancies are unintended.
The Center for Investigative Reporting broke the story that the Trump administration had cut $213.6 million in grants for research and teen pregnancy prevention programs that were established during Barack Obama’s presidency.
“It was approximately half our budget. It is a significant hit to us,” said Meagan Downey, director of special projects at Youth Catalytics. “As recently as July 3, we were working with federal staff. To send us the notice on July 5 is just not a good way to do business.”
To date, the Office of Adolescent Health had not yet provided any of the 2017 funding for Youth Catalytics, even though Congress had appropriated the money.
“This action is short-sighted and puts at risk the health and well-being of women and our most vulnerable youth, who depend on the evidence-based work that [Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs] grantees are doing across the nation,” says a letter of protest sent by 37 U.S. senators, including both of Vermont’s senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.
The letter points out that the appropriations bill sets the program’s parameters, and Teen Pregnancy Prevention “is a pioneering example of evidence-based policymaking.”
About one in four girls in the U.S. become pregnant before age 20. The pregnancy rate in the 15-to-19 year old range has declined 41 percent since federal TPP programs began in 2010, the letter says—“more than double the decline in any other six-year period since rates peaked in 1991,” and is now at a historic low.
Since the notification letter gave no reason for cutting off the grant money so abruptly, it is not clear whether the Trump administration is eliminating a program it opposes, or is acting in anticipation that Congress will pass its 2018 budget proposal intact.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told VTDigger that President Trump’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year does not request funding for the federal teen pregnancy program grants, and that a policy statement allows an agency to discontinue a grant “because continued funding would not be in the best interests of the federal government.”
Youth Catalytics is questioning whether it was legal for the government agency to retract a grant that had already been awarded. Most other programs nationwide were told that their funding would carry through until June 2018, but Youth Catalytics was one of just five grant recipients whose funding was cut off effective immediately.
“When an administration changes, it is not surprising to see some program priority shifts,” Downey said. “But we had a collaborative agreement. This is an unprecedented act that could affect other programs.”
However, Downey said the organization still has hope, and is referring to the grant loss as “purported cuts.” Downey said Youth Catalytics, which has relatively little name recognition in Vermont, is working to make its program more visible, and has brought a lawyer into the fight.
“We have a legal counsel who sent [Health and Human Services] a letter letting them know that we believe they violated their own regulations with this purported termination,” Downey said. “We hope to resolve everything soon so we can get back to work.”
The letter from the 37 senators asks who decided to end the grants early, why they were cut before Congress completed the appropriations process for the next fiscal year, and other questions.
An aide to Leahy, who is vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the senator is troubled by the decision to cease funding for the grants.
Leahy is seeking to keep the funding for the programs in place this year and prevent similar department-level decisions in the future, according to spokesman David Carle.