- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

Texas may soon join a growing list of states that use some of their federal welfare funds for promoting healthy couples’ relationships and strengthening marriage.

One bill before Gov. Rick Perry — HB 2683 — would provide $7.5 million a year for premarital education classes, marriage-enrichment activities and programs to help unwed parents strengthen their relationships.

A separate bill, HB 2685, would double Texas’ marriage-license fee to $60, but waive it — and a 72-hour waiting period — for couples who take an eight-hour premarital education class.

Texas House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, a Republican, pushed the measures, saying if more money is spent on the “front end” of family formation, less money would have to be spent on the “back end,” caring for families after separation and divorce.

Chris Gersten, who founded the Fatherhood and Marriage Leadership Institute (FAMLI) to encourage marriage through political action, applauded the Texas bills.

It “elevates the value of marriage in the community,” said Mr. Gersten, a former official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

FAMLI advocates a “1 percent solution,” in which states set aside 1 percent of their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) federal welfare grant to encourage “the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.”

If Mr. Perry signs HB 2685, Texas will join several other states that have allocated funds from TANF or other state sources for marriage promotion, Mr. Gersten said. Alabama, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Utah have all set aside funds for marriage, in amounts ranging from $100,000 in Georgia to $750,000 in Utah.

There is bipartisan support for funding marriage and relationship-skills education, Mr. Gersten said.

In March, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed a law that included $250,000 for marriage-strengthening activities. This made New Mexico “the first ‘blue’ state, with a Democratic governor and Democratic-controlled House and Senate to pass” such legislation, he said.

“For those of us who see healthy marriages and families, not government, as being the source of numerous social, health and economic benefits, it’s encouraging to see these monies spent on billboards and grass-roots training promoting the vital role of marriage and family in our culture,” said New Mexico state Sen. Mark Boitano, a Republican, who pushed for the marriage money.

The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, run by HHS, lists at least 19 states that use federal, state or local funds to promote healthy relationships among couples and families. Last fall, the department issued $118 million a year to 225 pro-marriage and responsible-fatherhood groups across the nation. The five-year grants will reach about $750 million when research and related costs are included.

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