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House Dems Look to Cut Federal Funding for Abstinence Education

Federal funding for abstinence education will likely fall considerably this year as Democratic leaders said Wednesday they will let a $50 million grant program expire on June 30.

The program, known as Title V, has not proven to be effective, said Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell's committee has jurisdiction over Title V funding. With a budget deficit and a war, he said the decision to eliminate funding was not a difficult one.

"Abstinence-only seems to be a colossal failure," Dingell said.

To back that viewpoint, he cited a recent report to Congress that showed students in four abstinence-until-marriage programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not. They also had sex at about the same age as students who did not take part in the four programs — 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

Common topics in abstinence-until-marriage programs include human anatomy and sexually transmitted diseases. Also, classes often focus on helping students set personal goals and build self-esteem. Youth are also taught to improve communication skills and manage peer pressure.

The federal government funds abstinence education through three separate programs. Title V is the second largest of those programs. Congress approved it as part of welfare reform. Participating states match the grants with $3 for every $4 they get from the federal government.

Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said the decision to stop funding Title V would only embolden supporters of abstinence education to work harder to maintain the program.

"It's a public health message that offers risk-elimination for youth," Huber said. "It's also consistent with what parents across America want for their youth."

Dingell credited Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Col., for her counsel on the need to do away with the grant program. Both lawmakers said they would prefer that the money be used for comprehensive sex ed programs that would include abstinence as part of the curriculum.

"With all we know about how to prevent teen pregnancy and reduce sexually transmitted diseases, it is high time to redirect the millions of federal dollars that we squander every year on abstinence-only education to programs that actually work," DeGette said.