- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

The Bush administration is developing a new program to channel money through the child-support-collection program to promote marriage and the involvement of both parents in the rearing of children.
Congress already is considering whether to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to promoting marriage in the welfare program, as President Bush has requested, but this program would not need congressional approval.
The new initiative would involve a maximum of about $22 million in federal and state money for about 15 communities, according to two draft documents that describe the plan.
Participating states would receive special permission from the government to spend money through their child-support programs for communitywide experiments to promote the benefits of marriage, help people develop marriage skills and create media campaigns to "rebuild cultural norms."
States could add new money to their child-support spending, but they might also cut from other spending. Welfare advocates also charge that the administration is trying to bypass Congress in implementing its pro-marriage agenda.
The proposal is still in draft form and must be approved by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House, said Wade Horn, who heads the HHS Administration for Children and Families, which would run the program.
Mr. Horn, a longtime advocate for marriage and fatherhood programs, noted that promoting marriage and discouraging illegitimacy were explicit goals of the 1996 welfare law, and HHS has long had the power to approve demonstration programs such as this one.
"This is not an attempt to circumvent any kind of debate about anything," Mr. Horn said. "The debate about whether government should be involved with this issue at all was resolved five years ago when Congress passed a [welfare] law and a Democratic president signed it."
While the welfare law gave states power to spend money to promote marriage, few have done so, partly because of a heavier focus on implementing new work requirements.
Costing a maximum of $22 million, the draft proposal would allow select states to put up one-third of the money for the marriage initiatives through their child-support administrative spending accounts. The federal government would pay the remaining 66 percent, the same match rate it uses for the child-support program.
Community coalitions would be expected to develop "a saturation approach" including a wide range of programs at the community, state and regional levels, focused on people with lower incomes, according to a draft of the plan.
Activities would include educating young people about the benefits of marriage and teaching how to promote healthy marriages. The "cultural norms" to be featured in media campaigns would relate to marriage, family formation and fatherhood, and the benefits of delaying childbearing until marriage.
Critics fear that with limited money, states may wind up diverting funds from child-support payments.
"The primary focus should be getting those kids the support they need, not some half-baked experiment that no one knows whether it will help poor kids or not," said Laurie Rubiner of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

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