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April 14 , 2008

Congresswoman Velázquez Announces New Legislation to Improve Mentoring Programs
for At-Risk High School Girls

Meets with Williamsburg high school students and teachers to discuss possible solutions to stem the rising rate of teenage pregnancy

BROOKLYN, NY – Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) today announced legislation to provide community agencies with the funding and flexibility to create mentoring programs that best suit their needs for preventing teen pregnancy.  During a visit to the High School for Enterprise, Business and Technology HS 478 in Williamsburg, Congresswoman Velázquez met with students and teachers to discuss the effectiveness of comprehensive sexual education efforts and the need for mentoring services. 

A well-designed mentoring program builds confidence and shows our teenage girls that anything is possible. They get to know a young woman who can relate to what is happening in a teenager’s life.  A mentor can lead by example, can listen and give advice.  We know that positive influences lead to positive outcomes,” Congresswoman Velázquez said. 

The “Mentor-Mentee Teen Pregnancy Reduction Act of 2008” would provide funding for school-based programs that pair-up recent college graduates with at-risk high school girls.  Program participants would have the flexibility to discuss a wide range of prevention and safe sex strategies that fit the needs of their community.  The mentors would be eligible to participate in a student loan repayment program – providing $2,000 in loan forgiveness for every 200 hours of service.  The Congresswoman’s initiative follows recent reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the teen birth rate in the United States rose in 2006 for the first time in 15 years.  The teen pregnancy rate for New York City is historically higher than the national rate: nearly one in 10 girls age 15-19 became pregnant in 2005. 

“It’s time to focus on programs that do more than preach to our students.  We have to foster sensible approaches to educating teens about safe-sex.  Mentoring programs could have a real impact during this crucial time in the lives of our young girls,” Congresswoman Velázquez said. 

The legislation provides the flexibility for programs to take a comprehensive approach to sex education, combining one-on-one mentoring with a set of workshops and after-school activities that have shown signs of success in preventing teenage pregnancies.  In recent months, states have spoken out against education funding that is restricted to “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs.  Seventeen states – including New York – turned back $15 million in federal Title V funds for 2007 because of the limiting nature of the program.  Congresswoman Velázquez’s bill is fiscally responsible because it would use the Title V money that has been turned back by the states and apply those funds to mentoring programs for high school girls. 

“Neighborhoods throughout the country, and even within New York City, have different needs when it comes to addressing teenage pregnancy.  But across the board, we know that teens want to have open and honest conversations about the issues they face.  My bill would foster those discussions though mentoring programs and provide a realistic response to this public health concern,” Congresswoman Velázquez said.