- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson this week said his agency is giving out more than $2.2 million in grants to improve child-support enforcement and, in some cases, promote healthy marriages.
The biggest single grant $414,574 is going to South Carolina to improve a data-sharing computer system that 14 states use to track people who owe child support.
However, a quarter of the funds are going to three groups that will stress the importance of a healthy marriage as part of their services to families.
"It is extremely important for us to reach out to those who need help in acquiring the skills necessary to build relationships and be effective parents," said Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The three groups getting money to discuss marriage are the Marriage Coalition in Cleveland Heights, Ohio; Community Services for Children Inc., in Allentown, Pa., and the Alabama Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board.
The Ohio group is faith-based and run by psychologist and author Sandra G. Bender. It will be using its nearly $200,000 grant to test a curriculum on the importance of marriage, paternity establishment and financial support with low-income couples, according to HHS materials.
The Pennsylvania group is receiving more than $177,000 to work with faith-based groups to provide marriage education, job training and other services to unwed couples enrolled in Early Head Start and Head Start.
The Alabama agency won $200,000 to offer services to improve marriage and relationship skills and employment skills among low-income unwed parents.
"We're just thrilled" with the award, Alicia Luckie, deputy director of the abuse and neglect prevention board, said yesterday.
The Alabama agency plans to fund four pilot projects that will teach a curriculum called "Caring for My Family" to low-income or troubled couples, she said.
The curriculum, she added, was developed around findings from studies of "fragile families," or new parents who are romantically involved but haven't married.
Locally, the Maryland Child Support Enforcement program won $200,000 to test a program to assist parolees and ex-offenders who owe child support to find and keep jobs.
In all, 12 programs received these "special improvement grants," Mr. Thompson said.
The grants are intended to fund "new ways to augment child-support enforcement services" by improving collections, responsible fatherhood, healthy marriages and parenting skills, he said.
At least four of the grants are likely to involve faith-based groups, an approach that has been championed by President Bush. On Dec. 12, Mr. Bush issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to cease any discriminatory policies against faith-based organizations.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has denounced these actions as an "unprecedented merger" of religion and government. Last month, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the advocacy group, promised "to explore every opportunity to challenge this in the courts."


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