September 20, 2016

Hirono, Senate Democrats Unveil Measure To Increase Access To Support At-Risk Hawaii Youth

Legislation Provides Grants To Improve Access To Fact-Based, Community-Oriented, Sexual Health Education

Senators Mazie K. Hirono, Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) today introduced the Youth Access to Sexual Health Services (YASHS) Act, a bill that would create a competitive grant program to expand access to fact-based, community oriented education and support programs that promote sexual health for young people who have been disadvantaged by underlying structural barriers and social inequity.

“Politicized and agenda-driven sex education fails too many at-risk and disadvantaged young people,” said Senator Hirono. “Better access to education will translate into better decisions that will help young people improve their health, enhance their futures, and gain confidence that their communities understand, accept, and support them.”

Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) and 33 cosponsors introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

“Our young people deserve better. We have a responsibility to protect and support the sexual health of our nation’s youth. That is why I introduced H.R. 4475 and made it a priority to work with my colleagues in the Senate. By working together, we can ensure that our young people have adequate access to sexual health services that support their lifelong health,” said Representative Adams.

The YASHS act would authorize the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to award competitive grants for programs that expand access to sexual health services for marginalized youth, including young people of color, immigrant youth, LGBTQ youth, youth in foster care, homeless youth, youth in juvenile detention, and others.

These grants would help organizations bridge barriers to information and access—from discrimination, to a lack of knowledgeable providers, a perceived lack of confidentiality, and transportation and other costs. These barriers can contribute to health challenges and disparities, including high rates of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, unintended pregnancies, and other issues.

The YASHS Act would also ensure that no federal funds are provided for programs that withhold health-promoting or life-saving information about sexuality-related topics, that are inaccurate or ineffective, or are inconsistent with the ethical imperatives of medicine and public health.

Nearly 30 organizations support the YASHS Act, including the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), the Hawaii Youth Services Network, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“Despite ongoing attacks in states across the country to keep young people from accessing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, we at Planned Parenthood continue to provide life-changing sex education programs that deliver information and resources about relationships, sexuality and sexual health,” said Carole Miller, Chief Learning Officer at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. “We applaud Senator Hirono for her tireless work to ensure today’s youth have access to comprehensive and medically accurate sex education, and we stand with her as she introduces legislation that will support our efforts and those of our partners to address the needs of our most vulnerable youth and at the same time help us to build safer, healthier communities for all.”

“Teen childbearing costs taxpayers 9.4 billion dollars a year. We can reduce these costs when parents are able to discuss sexual health with their children, and schools provide medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education.  Youth who complete sex education programs are more likely to practice abstinence and delay initiation of sex. Just as we teach our children how to cross the street safely, because we know that one day they will face the risks of traffic, we must also teach our youth how to protect themselves from sexual risks,” said Judith Clark, Executive Director of the Hawaii Youth Services Network.

“Too many young people still face barriers to the sex education they need to help them make healthy decisions that set them on a path to success. As the nation’s leading provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood is grateful for the leadership of Senator Hirono and Representative Adams in introducing the Youth Access to Sexual Health Services Act,” said Dana Singiser, Vice President for Government Relations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “This legislation bridges the gap between sex education and reproductive health services and is designed to reach underserved youth with the tools they need to access sexual health services.This legislation also expands current federal adolescent sexual health programs to ensure they reach a larger percentage of America’s youth.”

“As an organization that has worked tirelessly for over 50 years years to promote lifelong sexual health and wellbeing, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States is proud to support the Youth Access to Sexual Health Services Act and thanks Senator Hirono for her leadership in centering the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable young people,” said Chitra Panjabi, SIECUS President and CEO.

“National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health applauds the work Senator Hirono and Congresswoman Adams (D-NC-12) for the work they have done on behalf of our communities and sees the introduction of the Youth Access to Sexual Health Services Act as a continuation of that good work. Young women and men of color, LGBTQ, immigrant, homeless and incarcerated individuals make up a huge percentage of the United States population who lack access to care and are receiving inaccurate information when it comes to making critical decisions about their sexual and overall health. NLIRH urges Congress to pass the YASHS Act into law to ensure a future filled with salud, dignidad y justicia for all people and to continue to pass comprehensive legislation that would alleviate the many burdens faced by these underserved communities,” said Jessica González-Rojas, NLIRH Executive Director.