Florida recently turned down millions of dollars in federal grants, including funding for evidence-based sex education, based on state leaders’ opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The state has been a strong opponent of the 2010 health care law; Governor Rick Scott and many members of the Florida legislature believe the act to be unconstitutional, and Florida is a lead plaintiff in a suit against the federal government over the law. To date, the state has returned $4.5 million in federal funds authorized through health care reform and has declined to pursue $11.9 million in grants that would, among other things, help elderly patients move to home care, prevent child abuse and neglect, and assist eligible recipients in signing up for Medicare. In addition, Florida has chosen to decline $2.8 million in Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) funding after originally applying for the funds for Fiscal Year 2010.
The $55 million PREP state grant program provides funding to individual states to implement more comprehensive approaches to sexuality education. It is the first ever dedicated funding stream for the support of programs that provide information on abstinence and contraception, among other topics. The funding would have provided needed programming to Florida’s youth. The state has the sixth highest rate of teen births in the nation and ranks first in HIV infection rate among young people ages 13–19.
A statement provided by the communications director for the Florida Department of Health, Nancy Blum, explains that the department—the state agency awarded the PREP grant—returned the funds because the state legislature did not approve the department’s authority to expend the grant funds. In Florida, the legislature must grant authority to individual state agencies through the appropriations process in order for them to expend federal and state funds.
However, despite the state’s refusal of health reform funding, Florida chose to accept $2.6 million dollars in Title V abstinence-only funding, which was also authorized through the Affordable Care Act. Florida Democrats have derided the acceptance of these funds,calling the move hypocritical and accusing Republicans of prioritizing ideology over health.
Originally authorized for fiscal years 1998–2004, Title V Section 510(b) of the Social Security Act was established in 1996 as part of welfare reform. It provides grants to states to support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In 2009, Congress allowed the Title V abstinence-only program to expire. However, in March 2010, an amendment made to the health care reform legislation reinstated the grant program upon final passage of the bill.
Florida’s willingness to accept Title V abstinence-only funding while rejecting all other grants authorized by the Affordable Care Act has led to harsh criticism from state Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich. “The governor and legislative leaders turned down more than $50 million that will help Floridians because the funds were authorized by the federal health care reform act they so vehemently oppose. . . . But when federal money from the very same source is going to a program that advances their extreme agenda, they’re happy to take it,” commented Rich. “They’re putting right wing orthodoxy above the safety of Florida’s at-risk children and vulnerable senior citizens, and it is hypocritical and disingenuous.” Governor Scott’s communications director countered that the Title V abstinence-only funds are different from other grants because they are part of an existing program rather than a new funding stream created through health reform.
Florida’s Fiscal Year 2010 Title V abstinence-only sub-grantees include longtime recipients of such funding, including Abstinence Between Strong Teens International, Inc., and the Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County (formerly Pinellas Crisis Pregnancy Center)—both of which received sub-grants of $150,000.
Abstinence Between Strong Teens, a former Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grantee, is a non-profit organization that provides abstinence-only programs to youth in Miami–Dade County, Florida. The organization has provided abstinence-only-until-marriage programming in schools using the Choosing the Best curricula, one of the more popular abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the county. The curricula promote heterosexual marriage, rely on messages of fear and shame, and include biases about gender, sexual orientation, and pregnancy options. For example, Choosing the Best PATH asks students to brainstorm the “emotional consequences” of premarital sex. Suggested answers include “guilt, feeling scared, ruined relationships, broken emotional bonds.”
The Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County is a crisis pregnancy center. Such centers typically advertise as providing medical services and then use anti-abortion propaganda, misinformation, and fear and shame tactics to dissuade women facing unintended pregnancy from exercising their right to choose. The organization is also a long-time Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage sub-grantee and previously received CBAE funding before the program was eliminated in 2010.
Under the current stipulations of Florida’s Title V abstinence-only grant, all sub-grantees must implement evidence-based programs. Abstinence Between Strong Teens has chosen to replicate Project AIM (Adult Identity Mentoring), while the Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County will replicate Making a Difference! Both programs have proven effective in helping youth to delay early sexual initiation, but neither one provides complete information to young people that will allow them to make informed decisions about their sexual health once they do choose to become sexually active. “These programs fall short of what kids need and only provide part of the message,” comments Judith Selzer, vice president of public policy and communications for Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast. “They do not work for everyone.”
“It is appalling that Florida once again has chosen politics over the health of its young people,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “For years, Florida has continued to accept Title V abstinence-only funding despite poor sexual health outcomes among youth in the state. Now with an opportunity to provide complete information to youth, Florida public officials have once again turned their backs on young people in order to rack up political points.”
“While it is promising that the state has chosen to take an evidence-based approach in the abstinence programming it provides young people,” adds Heitel Yakush, “we know that such programs don’t meet the needs of all youth or all Florida communities. It is disheartening that approaches that don’t just work to help youth delay sex but also equip them with the tools and resources necessary to make responsible and informed decisions have been left off the table.”
Kaitlynn Ross, “Florida Turns Down Millions in Federal Aid; Accepts Abstinence Only Sex-Ed Money,” First Coast News, 9 August 2011, accessed 18 August 2011, <http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/local/article/
Slide 9: “Rates of Diagnoses of HIV Infection among Adolescents Aged13–19 Years, 2009—40 States and 5 U.S. Dependent Areas,” HIV Surveillance in Adolescents and Young Adults, (Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2011), accessed 27 September 2011,
Information provided by Nancy Blum, Director of Communications for the Florida Department of Health, 31 August 2011.
Matthew Hendley, “Nan Rich: Florida Republicans Take Federal Funds Only if It Promotes ‘Extreme Agenda,’” Broward Palm Beach New Times, 9 August 2011, accessed 18 August 2011, <http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2011/08/florida_abstinence_only_patient_protection_affordable_care_act_nan_rich.php>.
“A Brief History of Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Funding,” SIECUS, accessed 18 August 2011,
Ross, “Florida Turns Down Millions in Federal Aid; Accepts Abstinence Only Sex-Ed Money.”
Bruce Cook, Choosing the Best (Marietta, GA: Choosing the Best, 2001–2007). For more information, see SIECUS’s review of the Choosing the Best curricula at <http://www.communityactionkit.org/index.cfm?pageId=922>.