- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Republicans and family groups said yesterday the Senate must approve the welfare reform re-authorization bill because it contains President Bush’s plan to fund programs for building healthy marriages in low-income communities.

“I think this is one of the most important things we can do,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, at a news conference yesterday to promote the marriage plan. “Family unity changes lives.”

In 2001, Mr. Bush first proposed a plan to spend $300 million annually for five years to encourage premarital training, counseling and other support as a basis for solid marriages. That plan is included in House-passed legislation currently before the Senate, which renews the landmark 1996 welfare reform law. But the bill is stalled as Senate Democrats fight to offer contentious amendments on other issues such as increasing the minimum wage.

Supporters of the marriage initiative said many welfare recipients want to get married and would eagerly attend counseling or training if it were available.

“Anybody who opposes this will have to stand in the doorway and explain to these low-income couples why,” said Wade Horn, assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

But the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund said the marriage plan won’t reduce poverty and could divert funds from proven antipoverty programs, encourage discrimination against single or divorced people, or pressure women to stay with abusive mates.

Same-sex “marriage” advocates also voiced their displeasure with the proposal. Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said same-sex couples want the right to marry as well, and it is “ironic” that Mr. Bush and Republicans are promoting marriage while at the same time, “they’re working to change the Constitution to deny marriage rights to thousands of Americans.”

According to the Heritage Foundation, $20 million, or 0.02 percent, of the more than $100 billion in federal welfare funds disbursed over the past seven years has been spent by states to promote marriage.

Mr. Bush’s plan aims to correct this by offering grants to interested states, local governments and private groups, including faith-based groups, to promote marriage in a variety of ways.

The initiative includes the following:

• Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and the skills needed to increase marital stability and health.

cHigh school education about the value of marriage, relationship skills and budgeting.

cPrograms that teach marriage skills, such as parenting, financial management, conflict resolution and career advancement for unmarried pregnant women and unmarried expectant fathers.

• Premarital education and marriage-skills training for couples interested in marriage.

• Marriage mentoring programs that use married couples as role models in at-risk communities.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, noted that “for every $1,000 we spend on public programs addressing the breakdown of the family, we only spend $1 trying to prevent that breakdown.”

He added: “The president’s initiative puts the emphasis in the right place — prevention.”

Supporters of the president’s plan said marriage is key to pulling families out of poverty.

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