May 26, 2001
FUNDS CAN HELP MARRIAGE
America is in a sickening decline.
Last week Census
reported that the number of families headed by women with children grew
nearly five times faster than married couples with children! Cohabiting
couples now number 5.5 million, almost double that of 1990 and 13 TIMES
the 430,000 couples of 1960. Sadly, 40 percent of cohabitants have
babies outside of marriage.
Time for a new
strategy! Why not reduce divorce and illegitimacy at the front end? That
would prevent Humpty Dumpty from falling off the wall, rather than try
to piece him together afterward.
Wally Herger, the new Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on
Human Resources, held a remarkable hearing Tuesday looking for answers.
Herger cited "faint glimmers of hope" that 82 percent of unwed mothers
are romantically involved with a child's father at its birth. Almost
half were living together. And the majority "believe they have a good
chance of marrying the other person. What can or should we do to help
young couples and new parents form more permanent relationships
including, when appropriate, marriage?"
He noted the
1996 welfare reform law allowed states to use welfare funds "to promote
marriage and family formation. The logic was clear. If states discourage
out-of-wedlock child bearing and encourage marriage, welfare dependence
will shrink and children will be better off."
can be spent to promote marriage? For most Americans this is news.
Yet the law
better known for requiring welfare recipients to go to work, called
"Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" (TANF), also states three of
its goals are to 1) "end dependence of needy parents on government
benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage;" 2) "prevent
and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies," and 3)
"encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families."
surprising, there is a big TANF "welfare surplus," that could be used
for marriage. The law pledged that the federal funds going to each
state for welfare would NOT decrease as welfare rolls fell. The number
of welfare recipients has been cut in half, freeing billions, spent, for
example, to create day care centers to help welfare moms go to work.
remains a $7 billion TANF surplus that could be spent to reduce divorce
rates and promote marriage!
Sadly, only two
states have earmarked any TANF funds for marriage: Arizona and Oklahoma.
Leaders of those states were the first to testify at Herger's hearing.
Arizona has set
aside $1.1 million for "marriage skills courses," Arizona State Rep.
Mark Anderson told the committee: "Marriage skills courses are going to
be offered to young couples preparing for marriage." Couples who have
the "skills to communicate when differences arise will have a much
better chance at success."
Frank Keating asked his state Chamber of Commerce and university
researchers why the state suffers from such a high poverty rate.
replied, "Oklahoma's high divorce rate and low per-capita income are
interrelated. They hold hands. They push and pull each other. There's no
faster way for a married woman with children to become poor than to
suddenly become a single mom."
Keating boldly announced a specific measurable goal to reduce divorce in
Oklahoma by one-third by the year 2010. And he set aside 10 percent of
the state's $100 million welfare surplus, $10 million, to create a
His Secretary of
Health and Human Services, Jerry Regier, testified that the governor
asked the leaders of all denominations to sign an Oklahoma Marriage
Covenant pledging rigorous marriage preparation and couple mentoring.
Some 550 clergy have signed on so far.
The state is
also developing a "secular track" using existing governmental structures
in every county, such as home-visiting nurses and welfare workers who
will encourage TANF clients to attend classes with the child's father to
improve their communication and conflict resolution skills, using a
proven curriculum called PREP. The hope is more couples will marry as a
My wife and I
were asked to testify as co-chairs of Marriage Savers, which has helped
the clergy of 142 cities to develop "Community Marriage Policies" (CMP)
that have cut divorce rates. In Modesto, CA, the first to adopt a
CMP in 1986, the divorce rate has plunged 48 percent. And the marriage
rate has risen 12 percent, a sharp contrast to national trends.
I noted kids are
doing better as a result. School dropouts fell 20 percent and teen
births by 30 percent, triple the U.S. decline.
urged Congress and the President consider following Oklahoma's example.
First, set a
goal to cut the divorce rate by a third in a decade.
aside 5 to 10 percent of TANF funds to do so, since 48 states have done
Copyright 2001 Michael J.