- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, told D.C. officials yesterday that he is considering changing federal funding rules to allow the District to use “marriage-development accounts” to encourage low-income families to stay together.

Mr. Brownback, chairman of the Senate subcommittee in charge of the D.C. budget, said the accounts could be administered like targeted, low-income individual development accounts that have been used in other federal programs over the past decade.

“We should try to expand that concept,” the senator told D.C. leaders at a budget hearing on Capitol Hill, “on marriage-development accounts, where a couple is raising children at a low-income level. .. . I put it out as something that we are looking at. I want to see if the concept has worked for the individual development accounts or not.”

He said the program would reward low-income couples who remain married and contribute to a savings account. Those contributions, he said, could be matched with federal funds at a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 ratio.

“It’s a part of an incentive to getting them into a program to work on developing goals, work habits and a productive citizenry,” he said. “And we would look at a similar sort of concept or setup within a marriage setting.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams supported the idea, but was concerned how the changes would affect the city’s homosexual community.

“Certainly, we all support strengthening the family, and we all support strengthening marriage, but I believe that it ought to be a local determination about how that is defined,” said Mr. Williams, a Democrat.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp agreed, adding that her support is contingent upon the funding mechanism for the accounts.

“I think we would be open to looking at that as long as the federal government is saying that they are putting extra dollars in over and beyond what our general operating dollars may be,” Mrs. Cropp, a Democrat said. “But if it is dollars coming from our general budget, I would have a problem with that.”

Matching accounts are typically managed by banks, charitable organizations and local government agencies. They first surfaced in 1998 under President Clinton, garnering bipartisan support, and came into prominence as part of President Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

Mr. Brownback is mulling marriage-development accounts because he said 56 percent of D.C. births are out of wedlock. The national average is 36 percent, he said.

“It is just a big issue,” he said.

Mr. Brownback also said he would consider imposing a flat federal income tax on the city to help expand the District government’s tax base.

“We are looking at that as a possibility,” Mr. Brownback said.

Mr. Williams said he would be open to the new tax if Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, supports the idea.

The subcommittee also suggested that the city consolidate some of its schools and sell off unused buildings. Superintendent Clifford B. Janey did not know how many might be closed.

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