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Buffalo teen pregnancy prevention funding ending despite high rates

The rate of teen pregnancy in Buffalo is nearly twice as high as the statewide rate.

But a $10 million community-based program that's trying to reduce teen pregnancy in some of Buffalo's poorest neighborhoods has been told its funding will be ended early in 2018.

HOPE Buffalo, a partnership between New York City-based nonprofit Cicatelli Associates Inc. and the Erie County Department of Health, and other urban teen pregnancy programs across the country were notified in July that federal funding for its teen pregnancy program would be eliminated as of June 30, 2018, said Stan Martin, a Cicatelli official who is director of HOPE Buffalo.

The notification came from the Office of Adolescent Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which had authorized the program — part of its Teen Pregnancy Prevention initiative — through 2020.

Explaining the early elimination of funding, the Department of Health and Human Services attributed it in a statement to ''very weak evidence of positive impact of these programs,'' The New York Times reported.

Martin theorized that the HHS, under Trump, is emphasizing sex abstinence education over teen pregnancy prevention.

"I think that's a part of it," he said.

But he said the realities are that "teens are having sex" and it's important to provide them with information to protect them from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

More than 80 organizations throughout the country would be affected by the termination of Teen Pregnancy Prevention funding, according to a letter to Dr. Thomas E. Price, President Trump's secretary of health and human services. The letter dated July 21 was signed by many congressional representatives including Rep. Brian Higgins and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who oppose the funding cut.

Teen pregnancy rates in Buffalo, and across New York, have been steadily dropping every year since 2009. But Buffalo's rate remains far worse than the statewide rate or upstate New York rates.

In 2014, 61 out of every 1,000 Buffalo girls aged 15 to 19 became pregnant, according to the Erie County Department of Health. The rate elsewhere was: Erie County, 32 out of 1,000; upstate New York, 22 out of 1,000; and statewide, 33 out of 1,000.

HOPE Buffalo's goal is to reduce pregnancies among girls aged 15 to 19 by 30 percent by 2020 by focusing its work in nine ZIP codes in poor neighborhoods where the rates are the highest, Martin said. It is currently entering its third year of a five-year plan designed to provide information to 15,000 children through a network of school, community-based and health care providers.

In the nine ZIP codes — 14201, 14204, 14206, 14207 14208, 14209, 14211, 14213 and 14215 — there were 81 pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls in 2014, according to HOPE Buffalo.

"The rates are at an all-time low. The lowest they've been in years," Martin said. "I fear rates will start going back up (because the funding will end)."

"We built the infrastructure in the schools and community," Martin said at a news conference Thursday at the Delavan Grider Community Center in Buffalo. "After getting approval from Buffalo Public Schools and its teachers union, we started training the teachers. We're now projected to reach 7,000 youths this year alone."

Maisha Drayton, deputy director of HOPE Buffalo, said teachers in five schools have received training. That training started last summer.

Part of the strategy involves decreasing alcohol and drug abuse, reducing delinquency and risky sexual behavior, Drayton said.

"Sometimes youth are not in traditional settings such as a school setting," said Martin. "So we will visit alternative settings to tell providers we have a comprehensive linkage and referral program."

Martin was joined at the news conference by Dr. Gale R. Burstein, Erie County health commissioner; Bryana Ely and Joel Richardson, members of the HOPE Buffalo's youth outreach team; and Sharon Belton-Cottman, a Buffalo School Board member who represents the Ferry District and others.

Burstein cited national statistics when she described a decrease in teen birth rates.

"Since the early 90s, nationally teen pregnancy rates declined by 55 percent," Burstein said. "Teen birth rates dropped by 64 percent. Still, one of four girls will become pregnant by the age of 20."

Ely, who attends St. Mary's High School in Lancaster and is a member of the Buffalo Police Explorers, said she joined HOPE Buffalo's youth leadership team to give underserved people a voice in the community.

She recalled a recent forum where a girl approached her.

"With the information she received at the forum, she told me she would not get pregnant until she was 30 years old," Ely said.

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