A local sexual health clinic joined Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham and a nonprofit health insurance company this past week to announce a new reproductive health care program for young women.

The program, called “Empowering Healthy Decisions,” will appoint a new community educator at Family Planning of South Central New York who will be available to meet and connect underprivileged young women aged 16-21 with reproductive health services, including STI care and cancer screenings. They will also gain access to sexual health education and links to other medical providers for services, like mental health care.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, headquartered in Rochester, will contribute $20,000 and Binghamton will allocate $50,000 from a $1 million health fund that was created in 2022 with federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Jessica Cox, the regional president of the Excellus’s Southern Tier Region, said the new program will help expand reproductive health care access to the entire community.

“We are thrilled to provide funding to Family Planning of South Central New York for additional resources necessary for their women’s comprehensive health education services,” Cox said in a statement. “By advocating for comprehensive health services and collaborating with Family Planning of South Central New York, the City of Binghamton and [Kraham], we can create a future where women have access to the resources they need to make informed choices for their futures.”

The program will present helpful education regarding family planning and work to meet the needs of young women in the community, including assistance in contacting health care facilities, making appointments, getting cancer screenings, obtaining contraception and mental health support. Debra Marcus, Family Planning of South Central New York’s chief executive officer, said the program’s primary audience is disadvantaged women and girls who have suffered from lack of education, experiencing past trauma or dealing with violence.

The $1 million youth fund was created to help young people recover after the COVID-19 pandemic, but Kraham said much of the funding was allocated to programs geared toward helping young men, like mentorships and gang prevention initiatives. He said he believed a new program would help young women overcome challenges like family planning or mental health. The city then partnered with Excellus — an agency looking to support an “outcome-based” health care program in Binghamton — and Family Planning.

“The effects [of this program] is if we can give young women, who may be may be in poverty, who may be marginalized in other ways, [the] lifeline of access to health care, that’s going to pay dividends for years and years and years to come,” Kraham said. “[It will] hopefully end that cycle of generational poverty and provide them with the ability to achieve their goals. If you’re not healthy, if you don’t have confidence in your health, you can’t begin to accomplish any of the other goals you have in life.”

A 2014 study from the National Library of Medicine found that children born after the United States introduced federal family planning programs in the 1960s and 70s were less likely to become impoverished as children and adults, highlighting family planning programs’ effectiveness in providing accessible resources.

The new program will supply these tools through an in-person referral where advocates will educate and connect young women to outside resources while ensuring they receive the care they need. Advocates will continuously follow up with young women in the program to guarantee their well-being.

Emily DePietro, vice president of Planned Parenthood Generation and a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, expressed support for the program and its potential positive impacts on Binghamton University students.

“I believe that the ‘Empowering Healthy Decisions’ program has the potential to greatly benefit not only students at [BU] but also members of the local Binghamton community,” DePietro wrote. “By providing tools and support to those who need it most, informed decisions about one’s reproductive health care can be made with confidence.”