WASHINGTON – Much effort has been made recently to promote stable marriages as part of the process of reauthorizing the new welfare reform bill.
Christian pro-family leaders such as Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, joined three senators, Rick Santorum (R-PA), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Jim Talent (R-MO) and others at a Capitol Hill press conference March 31, regarding the new welfare reform bill currently pending in the U.S. Senate.
On top of raising work requirements to 34 hours a week, limiting lifetime benefits to five years, and adding $6 billion for child care, the Senate’s Welfare Reform Bill also includes President Bush’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, which is a $1.5 billion plan to promote healthy marriage among low-income couples. Once it gets approved, about $300 million will be used yearly for premarital training and counseling.
According to Senator Santorum, some of that money would help fund faith-based marriage counseling for couples coming off welfare. Santorum believes that wedded parents are best for children and he said under the bill, marriage would only be encouraged not forced on couples.
Supporters of the initiative are hoping to see reduction in both child poverty and dependence on government aid. The initiative is also seeking to reduce divorce rates and penalties in welfare programs for marriage.
Senator Talent said, "The experience of America, and especially over the last seven years, is that the two best anti-poverty programs are work and healthy marriage."
“Marriage is far more than a private, personal, social relationship,” said Richard Land at the news conference, “It is a positive social good that makes for physically and emotionally healthier spouses and children. There’s a mountain of evidence, enough to fill the Capitol, that shows this now. We’ve conducted a 35- or 40-year experiment in this country on whether or not fathers are optional accessories in the rearing of children, and the answer is they’re not.”
“Marriage needs to be sustained,” Land said. “The government needs to be making policies and doing things that help sustain healthy marriages, because it’s the right thing to do; it’s good for children; it’s good for their parents. And when government doesn’t do it, government ends up having to try to remediate the damage that is done to children and their parents.”
FRC's Perkins, who defends the marriage initiative, said:
"The need is clear. For every $1,000 we spend on public programs addressing the breakdown of the family, we only spend $1 trying to prevent that breakdown in the first place. The President's initiative puts the emphasis in the right place -- prevention.
"Studies have shown that children in homes with married parents are healthier and engage in less risky behavior. Children who live with married parents are also less likely to live in poverty than children in single-parent homes. In 1999, eight percent of children with married parents lived in poverty, compared to 42 percent of those living with their mother only.
"As you can see, it is undeniable that we all have an interest in ensuring that America's children are raised in homes with a married mother and father. Strengthening marriage is a necessity for our nation, both financially and socially.”
However not everyone is in supportive of the bill. Lisalyn Jacobs of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, a liberal feminist organization, said, “[M]arriage promotion is a dangerous proposition and does nothing to solve either the poverty or the domestic violence affecting the lives of many [welfare] recipients. There’s still time to scrap this dangerous and intrusive experiment, and put the money to good use.”