The family funds breakup
Is the Obama administration trying to divorce the federal government from the marriage business? Yes, the White House is ditching the only real federal effort to strengthen the institution of marriage, say some marriage-movement activists, who are already lamenting the loss of the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood grant program.
But others, including those involved in federal and local fatherhood programs, say not really - its replacement program is an important adjustment in family policy.
Still others say the marriage money may be gone, but people should save their tears - government funds have already done what they can to till the soil and it’s now time for private enterprise and religious groups to step up and revive America’s marriage culture.
The center of this debate is located in two lines of the Obama administration’s 2011 budget.
One zeroes out the $150 million Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood grants, and the other creates a $500 million Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund, aimed at issuing three-year competitive grants to states. The new fund absorbs the funding of the George W. Bush-era marriage and fatherhood grants.
The change perplexes Nisa Muhammad, founder of Wedded Bliss Foundation, which has celebrated the weddings of more than 100 low-income couples in recent months.
“Marriage” is in the title of the new innovation fund, she said, but “when you read deeper … where’d it go?”
The description of new fund’s purpose is even more discouraging for marriage watchers. Half the money is slated for state-initiated responsible fatherhood and employment programs, “including those with a marriage component,” budget language explains.
The other half will go to programs for “custodial parents,” i.e., single mothers. Fundable activities include job training, substance-abuse treatment, child-support enforcement and other anti-poverty activities that already receive funding from dozens - if not hundreds - of federal programs.
“Job-training programs have been going on for years and years, and now we want to revert back to that? We are in a different state and time,” Mrs. Muhammad said. “There’s really a disconnect” in Washington, she added. “They really don’t understand what the breakdown of the two-parent family means for children.”
Marriage-movement leaders assert that healthy marriages are good for adults, children and society, and newly developed marriage-education programs can effectively teach men and women how to find good spouses and keep their marriages stable and happy.
The urgent task is to infuse these new skills into American communities, particularly those where marriage rates are low and poverty rates are high, they say.
When President Obama was elected, no one knew what he would do with the Bush administration’s healthy marriage initiative, which has disbursed $100 million a year for healthy marriages and $50 million a year for responsible fatherhood grants.
The 2011 budget finally tipped his hand - and set off some alarm bells in the marriage movement.
“Elimination of the federal funding will be a signal to the states that marriage education programs are not worth funding with government funds,” Chris Gersten, executive director of the Fatherhood and Marriage Leadership Institute (FAMLI), said in a letter to supporters.