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Feds must process Baltimore teen pregnancy prevention grant renewal, judge rules

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

A federal judge has ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to process Baltimore’s application to renew funding for teen pregnancy prevention initiatives, finding the early termination of the five-year grant did not follow agency protocol.

Healthy Teen Network and Baltimore sued HHS in February after being alerted in August the $8.7 million grant would end in June after only three years. The notice did not explain the decision, and HHS has not accused the plaintiffs of violating the program’s terms.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment Wednesday and denied the government’s motion to dismiss, which officials celebrated as a “victory for the rule of law,” according to Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis.

“Federal agencies have a lot of authority, a lot of power, but this decision by Judge Blake makes clear once again that federal agencies are bound by the law and must follow procedures,” he said in a conference call Thursday.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen said the city and Healthy Teen Network hope to continue operating the program without any interruption if the renewal application is processed promptly.

“Yesterday’s ruling means students in our city will continue to receive evidence-based, science-based education,” she said.

Baltimore used the funding for a program that teaches middle school and high school health and physical education teachers how to teach sexual education. It trained more than 115 teachers and helped educate more than 12,000 city teens, according to the health department.

Healthy Teen Network is a Baltimore-based nonprofit that promotes healthy outcomes in teens. It used the federal grant money to create a web-based mobile app that provides medically accurate and age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information.

Blake ruled HHS’s decision to shorten the grant constituted a termination, and the agency did not comply with administrative regulations. HHS may only terminate a grant for cause, with the grantee’s consent, or if the grantee failed to comply with the terms or requests termination.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said the ruling made it clear the decision to prematurely end these and other grants authorized by Congress for teen pregnancy prevention cannot be ended for ideological reasons.

“Federal agencies under this administration cannot act like mini-dictatorships and arbitrarily terminate programs,” he said.

Blake is the third federal judge to grant relief to grantees. Judges in Washington D.C. and Washington state have ruled similarly.

The case is Healthy Teen Network et al. v. Alex M. Azar II et al., 1:18-cv-00468-CCB.

Daily Record Business Writer Tim Curtis contributed to this report.

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