On April 19th, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the US Department of Health and Human Services unlawfully terminated two federal grants to SHIFT NC last summer. The ruling in the case – Policy and Research Group, LLC, et al. v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al. – has major implications for teens in North Carolina and across the nation.
In July 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services informed grantees that programs competitively funded through the Office of Adolescent Health would end in June 2018 rather than 2020, two years earlier than planned. The funding was terminated without explanation and in spite of the successes achieved by Office of Adolescent Health grantees.
In her ruling, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson agreed with SHIFT NC’s pro bono legal team at Public Citizen that HHS had violated its own rules by arbitrarily and capriciously ending funding for SHIFT NC and the three other plaintiffs on the case, Policy and Research Group, LLC, Project Vida, and the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Since the ruling, judges in two similar cases have also decided that HHS unlawfully terminated teen pregnancy prevention grants, and Public Citizen has filed a class action suit on behalf of all HHS grantees whose grants were unlawfully terminated.
Putting Teens First
SHIFT NC participated in the litigation as part of an effort to sustain its Every Teen Counts initiative. Every Teen Counts builds the capacity of the foster care system and the state’s juvenile detention centers to provide trauma-informed pregnancy prevention programs.
“This case was never about SHIFT NC as an organization,” said SHIFT NC CEO Traci Baird. “This case was about standing up for some of our state’s most vulnerable teens and being brave enough to say, ‘this is wrong.’”
Youth in foster care and juvenile detention centers have higher teen pregnancy rates than their peers. While communities have had evidence-based tools to affect most youth, until recently, there have been fewer tools available to serve youth in out-of-home care, one of the most vulnerable populations.
What Happens Next
The court ruling requires the Office of Adolescent Health to process SHIFT NC and the other plaintiffs’ routine applications to continue their projects in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. That should allow SHIFT NC to continue work with Every Teen Counts partners in the coming months.
In addition, the class action lawsuit filed by Public Citizen may help other Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grantees capitalize on this win to continue their own work.
“North Carolina has always been recognized as a leader on teen pregnancy prevention,” said Baird. “We’re proud that our ruling could ultimately help grantees across the nation continue to provide teens with evidence-based, medically accurate health programs.”