- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

President Bush on Tuesday unveiled his proposals to reauthorize the nation's basic welfare law, which was extensively rewritten in 1996. That major reform bill, which Bill Clinton signed under intense political pressure, has resulted in a 56 percent reduction in the number of people receiving cash assistance. At the same time, child poverty has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 25 years. Not surprisingly, the legislation is regarded as one the of most important social-policy triumphs in decades. While "encouraged" by the results, Mr. Bush emphasizes that he is "not content" with the status quo.

Building upon the success of the 1996 changes, Mr. Bush's plan would increase the minimum work requirements for welfare recipients. At the same time, despite today's much smaller welfare clientele, he would maintain the federal government's annual $16.6 billion funding contribution in the form of a block grant to the states. In an important policy initiative that already has the nags from the National Organization for Women (NOW) up in arms, the president would allocate as much as $300 million to "encourage healthy, stable marriages." As Heritage Foundation policy analyst Patrick Fagan testified before Congress last spring, an avalanche of research conclusively demonstrates that "each child thrives best when raised in a married family where his or her father and mother are permanently devoted to each other and to their children." To this end, a paramount goal of Mr. Bush's welfare policy would be the provision of effective incentives encouraging "healthy marriages and two-parent, married families."

One beneficial consequence of achieving this goal would be a reduction in the incidence of out-of-wedlock childbirth, which has literally reached epidemic proportions. Indeed, on Feb. 12, the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that "[a]ll measures of childbearing by unmarried women increased in 2000." The percentage of all births that were to unmarried women reached a record 33.2 percent in 2000. One of three births in the United States today is illegitimate, a dramatic increase from the18.4 percent that prevailed in 1980. In 1950, it was 4.0 percent.

It is simply impossible to understate the socially catastrophic consequences of America's crisis of illegitimacy. Having reviewed the extensive body of research on the effects of out-of-wedlock births most of the research, by the way, was conducted by politically liberal academics Mr. Fagan and his Heritage Foundation colleagues found that "out-of-wedlock births increase the national incidence of: lowered health for newborns; retarded cognitive, especially verbal, development of young children; lowered educational achievement; lowered job attainment as young adults; increased behavioral problems; lowered impulse control (aggression and sexual behavior); and increased anti-social development."

Reversing these catastrophic trends must be the highest priority for welfare reauthorization this year. With an aggressive emphasis on expanding healthy marriages and two-parent married families, Mr. Bush is clearly moving in the right direction. It is up to Congress to follow his lead.

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