- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

A state lawmaker and a Maryland couple active in marriage mentoring yesterday urged Congress to earmark welfare funds for pro-marriage programs in low-income populations.
"Congress has a chance to lead on the issue of strengthening marriage," Arizona state Rep. Mark Anderson told the House Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources, which held a hearing yesterday on welfare and marriage.
"I would like to strongly encourage you to urge states to develop policies and programs that strengthen marriage with the goal to lower the divorce rate," said Mr. Anderson, who helped enact a law to allocate $1 million of welfare funds to marriage skills courses, $75,000 for "healthy marriage" handbooks and $75,000 for vouchers for poor couples who want to take a marriage-skills course.
President Bush and Congress should set national goals for reducing divorce rates, increase marriage rates and reduce unwed childbearing, said syndicated columnist Michael J. McManus, who with his wife, Harriet, lead "Marriage Savers" mentoring programs in religious and community settings.
When Congress reauthorizes the welfare-reform law next year, it should set aside 5 percent to 10 percent for state marriage-strengthening efforts, Mr. McManus said.
Current welfare law allows states to use their welfare funds to promote marriage and family formation, but does not require them to do so, said Rep. Wally Herger, California Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee.
There is concern that government will overstep its bounds — and invite discrimination — by involving itself in something so personal and private as marriage, said some witnesses.
Welfare benefits should always be available based on need, not family composition, said Laurie Rubiner, a policy official of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Its been suggested that married couples should get preferential treatment in welfare programs to encourage marriage, but "such a policy would be misguided," said Miss Rubiner.
"We ought not to desecrate the ideal of marriage by paying people to get married," she said, adding that marriage shouldnt be promoted as a "quick-fix economic solution."
Jerry Regier, Oklahomas Health and Human Services secretary, said that, in his view, state government is already involved in peoples personal affairs, as evidenced by the myriad of government social programs for broken families and their children.
"We believe that by strengthening marriage and reducing divorce, we are promoting less government involvement in families," said Mr. Regier, who testified about Oklahomas statewide marriage initiative, which is funded with $10 million or 10 percent of its excess welfare funds.
Pro-marriage policies will get a mixed response from welfare mothers because many of them "believe that marriage will probably make their lives more difficult," cautioned Kathryn Edin, a sociology professor at Northwestern Universitys Institute of Policy Research.
A lot of poor mothers "say they are willing and even eager to wed if the marriage represents substantial upward mobility and if their husband doesnt beat them, abuse their children, insist on making all the decisions or 'fool around with other women," said Mrs. Edin, who is noted for her research on welfare mothers.
But if the women cant find such a man, "most would rather remain single and raise their children alone," she said.

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