- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 10, 2005

Supporters of a multimillion-dollar “healthy marriage” program are stepping up their efforts to get it into this year’s must-pass budget bill.

“Tragically, government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to pick up the pieces when marriage fails, yet does virtually nothing to preserve or strengthen marriage,” Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said in a letter sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

“The healthy marriage initiative represents a bold departure from this pattern of failed policy,” said the letter, which was signed by Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Jim Talent of Missouri, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mel Martinez of Florida and David Vitter of Louisiana.

The $300 million-a-year marriage program is in the House budget bill as part of a full renewal of welfare reform.

The 1996 welfare reform law technically expired three years ago and is in its 11th temporary extension.

However, the Senate budget bill doesn’t include welfare reform — or the marriage program — as key Senate leaders want to handle welfare reform in a separate bill.

Chris Gersten, leader of the new Fatherhood and Marriage Leadership Institute (FAMLI), said it should be easy to include the marriage program in the final budget bill because all its funds come from “ineffective” welfare programs that could be discontinued.

This is “not new spending, but rather a reprogramming” of various welfare performance bonuses, he said.

Mr. Grassley has done a lot to champion pro-marriage activities in Iowa, “and we are very hopeful … he will see how important it is for the whole country to benefit from the marriage education programs,” added Mr. Gersten, a former official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Last month, FAMLI and nearly 100 pro-marriage allies sent a letter to lawmakers, asking them to enact the marriage program this year.

President Bush introduced the healthy marriage initiative in February 2002, saying his administration “will give unprecedented support to strengthening marriages.”

“Strong marriages and stable families are incredibly good for children. And stable families should be the central goal of American welfare policy,” Mr. Bush said in 2002.

Opponents of the marriage program include feminist and anti-poverty groups that say welfare money shouldn’t be siphoned from needy single parents or used to coerce women into marriages with abusive husbands.

An HHS report issued this year said $25 million in grants have been awarded for premarital education, marriage enrichment and relationship-skills activities.

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