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March 15, 2006
Column #1,281
Bush's $100 Million For Marriage
by Michael J. McManus

I have not seen a single news story about it, but there is great news about marriage in America. For the first time, the Federal Government is going to invest $100 million a year to strengthen marriage over the next five years.

President Bush signed the law February 8, which was part of the re-authorization of Welfare Reform. It is not new money, but a reallocation of funds that were poorly spent to reduce out-of-wedlock births. They actually increased from 1.2 million in 1995 to 1.4 million in 2003.

The key question is who will get the money? Most likely state and local welfare offices will. Why? They know how to write applications for federal aid. However, they are the least likely groups to use the money well. In fact, their welfare rules and regulations have contributed mightily to the disintegration of marriage. The marriage rate has plunged 48 percent since 1970. 

Those groups with the greatest capacity to reduce divorce and cohabitation rates - churches and synagogues - are unlikely to apply for this federal aid. As my pastor put it, "We will never take one dollar of federal aid."

But that misses the point. Healthy Marriage Initiatives have started in many cities which could receive the money and hire staff to work with congregations to help them do a better job preparing couples for marriage, enriching existing marriages, or saving troubled ones.

However, local religious leadership needs to demand a voice in the allocation of the funds.  That will not be easy for two key reasons:

First, local churches rarely cooperate. Religious leadership is splintered. Catholic churches, ten times larger than Protestant ones, typically ignore them. Protestants are divided between conservative Evangelical clergy who know each other, but not Mainline Protestants who have their own liberal Councils of Churches. Minority clergy generally stick to themselves.

Second, the marital pioneering done by some denominations or local churches is unknown to most local clergy. Catholics historically have a marriage strategy which works well enough that only 25 percent of Catholics have divorced compared to 39 percent of Protestants. Catholics require six months of rigorous marriage preparation that includes taking a premarital inventory and training in conflict resolution skills. They also created Marriage Encounter that has strengthened 2 million existing marriages and Retrouvaille, which restores 80 percent of the 70,000 deeply troubled marriages (retrouvaille.org).

However, individual Protestant churches have pioneered successful post-marital answers in  local churches. St. David's Episcopal Church in Jacksonville created a "Marriage Ministry" in which couples who have recovered from crippling problems, such as adultery, learned to mentor couples challenged by similar issues. Over five years mentors saved 38 out of 40 troubled marriages.

Roswell (GA) United Methodist Church created a Stepfamily Support Group which gives stepparents a place and a plan to learn how to create a successful blending family. This solution saves 80 percent of stepfamilies that usually divorce at a 70% rate a total reversal.

What can be done for marriages in which one partner wants to leave while the spouse is trying to save the marriage? Joe and Michelle Williams developed a self-guided workbook course at their evangelical church in Modesto, CA called "Reconciling God's Way." The spouse working at the marriage takes the course with a same gender friend who meets an hour weekly for 3 months, asking questions suggested by a "Support Partner Handbook."

For more information about these solutions or about Community Marriage Policies that have jump-started these reforms in 201 cities, call Marriage Savers, an organization my wife and I created (301 469-5873).

The new law will fund initiatives which could foster such marriage-saving solutions. Specifically, it will allow eight different activities to be funded:

1.  Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and skills needed for success.

2.  Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills and budgeting.

3.  Marriage education that teaches unwed pregnant women and expectant fathers
relationship and parenting skills.

4.  Premarital education and marriage skills training for engaged couples and for couples or          individuals considering marriage.

5.  Marriage enrichment and marital skills training programs for existing marriages.

6.  Divorce reduction programs that teach conflicted couples relationship skills.

7.  Marriage mentoring programs which use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities.

8.  Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, such as welfare, food stamps or Medicaid which are normally cut or eliminated if a single parent marries - if offered with marriage education.

This is a new day for marriage, thanks to the new law that was crafted by HHS Assistant Secretary Wade Horn.
 
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