Multnomah County is appealing an abrupt decision by the Trump administration this summer to cut short a multimillion dollar grant aimed at reducing unintended teen pregnancies.
The hit to Multnomah schools and after-school programs is $1.25 million a year.
Communities across the country receive money from the same grant fund, and several including Seattle, Baltimore and New York have already filed appeals, said Rachael Banks, Multnomah County’s interim public health director.
“We are committed to finding creative ways to continue to support our youth,” Banks said. But she said the budget gap is significant enough “we won’t be able to backfill.”
Local school districts and community groups use the grant to train staff and purchase curriculum to educate middle and high school students and their parents on sexual health and healthy relationship skills. The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was supposed to continue for five years, but last month the agency terminated the grant two years early, according to the county.
More than 8,000 students in the Portland, David Douglas, Parkrose, Reynolds and Centennial school districts had health classes supported by the grant this year. Banks said the county will “do as much as we can to train up the schools to do the most they can with the funds left.”
The grant also funds sexual health and relationship training for after school programs run by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland Metro, Latino Network, Native American Youth and Family Center and Self-Enhancement Inc.
Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said the sex and relationship education outreach is particularly important to groups that have higher rates of unplanned teenage pregnancies.
“Those are communities of color, those without access to health coverage and those living in east Multnomah County,” Vega Pederson said. “For us, early cancellation of this grant means we’re turning back the clock on this progress we’ve made and endangering the lives and economic security of thousands of young women.”
Vega Pederson said cancelling the grant could ultimately cost governments more money, if it halts progress in preventing unintended teenage pregnancies. Overall, teen pregnancies in Multnomah County decreased in recent years, according to state data.
Veronica Sunderland-Perez, program manager for health and wellness at the Latino Network, said the organization works with both youth and their parents.
“I think for us one of the primary successes of this program has been engaging parents so they feel we’re providing the education to their youth, but also to them so they can lead these conversations at home,” Sunderland-Perez said. “That really helps parents think about how can they have their youth having healthier lives moving forward.”
Sunderland-Perez said it’s important to use an up-to-date, evidence-based sexual health curriculum and continue training staff, because the best practices are constantly evolving.
Multnomah County filed an administrative appeal of the grant termination on Aug. 3. “We’re saying basically this grant has been ended with no explanation, no justification,” Banks said. “And it’s not tied to our performance.”
— Hillary Borrud