Hennepin County has filed a lawsuit against the United States government, challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s decision to abandon teen pregnancy prevention programs.
This is the eighth lawsuit filed in recent weeks against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in response to its decision last year to end funding for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants. The lawsuit charges that despite Congress’ funding, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unlawfully terminated Hennepin County’s grant two years early.
Hennepin County is completing the third year of the five-year grant, which has funded comprehensive sex education and related clinic outreach. County leaders face difficult decisions when the promised $1.5 million annual grant ends on June 30, rather than the same date in 2020.
“Preventing teens from becoming parents until they have committed partners and are ready is among the most important preventive efforts we do,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat. “Our recent success is a model for the entire country and we will not give up the federal grant without a fight.”
Hennepin County’s work under the grant targets communities with the highest teen birth rates –Brooklyn Center, Robbinsdale, North Minneapolis, central Minneapolis and Richfield, which include areas that experience the highest rates of teen pregnancy, as well as significant race and poverty disparities.
Since 2007, the number of teens countywide giving birth has decreased by 64 percent. In real numbers, that means that during the program’s first year, 1,152 young women, ages 15 to 19, became mothers. In 2016, the most recent data year, that number had fallen to 418 new teen moms.
Hennepin County officials say that progress did not happen by accident. With the help from the federal grants, as well as limited state and county funding, Hennepin County’s Better Together Hennepin teen pregnancy prevention initiative developed and implemented a range of evidence-based programming options meant to help teens, say officials.
“We know based on the results that our approach works,” said Kathy Wick, program manager of the Hennepin County Public Health Family Health unit. “We always underestimate the ability of our youth to make good decisions. But we see all the time that they can make good decisions when you give them information and guidance they need as they are becoming young adults.”
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), with her colleagues, wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services in opposition to ending the funding. Reps. Keith Ellison (D-5th), Betty McCollum (D-4th) and Tim Walz (D-1st) did likewise from the House.
District courts in three other jurisdictions have concluded that the federal government violated the law by terminating the grants early.
“When teens wait to become parents, we see better economic futures, achievement of educational goals, improved parental capacity and other positive outcomes in much greater percentages than for teen parents,” said Opat. “We simply have to work to help teens make good choices. Thanks to our work, kids in areas where rates are high are making better decisions and getting a better start in life.”