Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. appealed to Congress for a new $60 million program to combat an epidemic of teenage pregnancies, which now number almost 1 million annually.
The HEW program would supplement $226 million already authorized for family planning services next year and is designed to provide new prevention and care services for pregnant teen-agers. It also would attempt to coordinate existing services already provided by various state, federal and private agencies.
"Teen-age pregnancy is one of the most serious and complex social problems facing our nation today," Califano said. "For hundreds of thousands of teen-agers, the birth of a child can usher in a dismal future of unemployment, poverty, family breakdown, emotional stress, dependency on public agencies, and health problems for mother and child."
Califano's proposal, which was sent to Congress earlier, has been attacked by some population and family planning groups for being too stingy. But yesterday Califano encountered unexpectedly sharp questions from members of the Senate Human Resources Committee, who wondered, in the wake of California's vote last week to slash property taxes, whether even the $60 million he wants is justified.
The HEW program would try to reduce teen-age pregnancies through comprehensive education and family planning services.It also would give pre- and postnatal care for the estimated 600,000 teen-age girls who become mothers.
Califano estimated that about 115,000 adolescents not now receiving counseling or care would be assisted if the program is enacted. He said the cost of the comprehensive services the program envisages would be about $750 per year, far less than it costs to support a mother and child on welfare.
The program assumes that existing programs designed to serve sexually active teen-agers do not work well because of lack of coordination. Of the $60 million requested, $30 million would be used for coordination and the other $30 million would go for new programs and services.
But Janet Bell Forbush, executive director of the National Alliance Concerned with School-Age Parents, said a survey of 50 urban and rural community agencies showed "at best a 'patchwork quit'" of services with "few comprehensive programs in place."
She urged that more attention be given to the needs of teen-agers who become pregnant and less on educational programs.
But the senators seemed more concerned about California's tax-cutting Proposition 13.
Sen. Don Riegle (D-Mich.) said the services provided by Califano's department appear to be the targets of much of voters' ire. He asked Califano for hard figures to sustain his contention that the program would save money by reducing future welfare costs.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the real challenge "is leadership that can contend with the real frustrations of people out in the countryside who will feel that this is just one more program, and is not cost-justified."
Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.), said improved services might make "very very well taken care of" pregnant teenagers "the envy of non-pregnant girls."
He added, "The relationship between teen-age pregnancy and idleness and poverty are complex . . . Idleness seems to be in part the result of a relaxation of standards in academic life . . . Idleness gives time for flirtation, and flirtation leads to you-know-what."