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Executive Summary #1741 on Welfare and Welfare Spending and Family and Marriage

March 26, 2004

Executive Summary: Understanding the President's Healthy Marriage Initiative

By and

The erosion of marriage throughout the past four decades has had large-scale negative effects on both children and adults and lies at the heart of many social problems with which government currently grapples. The beneficial effects of marriage on individuals and society are beyond reasonable dispute, and there is a broad and growing consensus that government policy should promote rather than discourage healthy marriage.

Recognizing the widespread benefits of marriage to individuals and society, the federal welfare reform legislation enacted in 1996 set forth clear goals to increase the number of two-parent families and to reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing. Regrettably, in the years since reform, most states have done very little to directly advance this objective. Out of more than $100 billion in federal TANF funds disbursed over the past seven years, only about $20 million (a minuscule 0.02 percent) has been spent on promoting marriage.

President Bush's Initiative to Promote Healthy Marriage
To deal with this shortcoming, President George W. Bush has sought to meet the original goals of welfare reform by proposing, as part of welfare reauthorization, a new model program to promote healthy marriage. The proposed program would seek to increase healthy marriage by providing individuals and couples with:

  • Accurate information on the value of marriage in the lives of men, women, and children;
  • Marriage-skills education that will enable couples to reduce conflict and increase the happiness and longevity of their relationship; and
  • Experimental reductions in the financial penalties against marriage that are currently contained in all federal welfare programs.

All participation in the President's marriage program would be voluntary. The initiative would utilize existing marriage-skills education programs that have proven effective in decreasing conflict and increasing happiness and stability among couples; these programs have also been shown to be effective in reducing domestic violence. The pro-marriage initiative would not merely seek to increase marriage rates among target couples, but also would provide ongoing support to help at-risk couples maintain healthy marriages over time.

The plan would not create government bureaucracies to provide marriage training. Instead, the government would contract with private organizations that have track records of success in providing marriage-skills education.

A Future-Oriented Policy
The President's healthy marriage initiative is a future-oriented, preventive policy.

It will foster better life-planning skills--encouraging couples to develop loving, committed marriages before bringing children into the world rather than having children before trust and commitment between parents has been established.

It will encourage couples to reexamine and improve their relationships and plan wisely for the future rather than stumbling blindly into a childbirth for which neither parent may be prepared.

The program would also provide marriage-skills education to married couples to improve their relationships and reduce the probability of divorce.

By providing young couples with the tools needed to build healthy, stable marriages, the marriage initiative would substantially reduce future rates of welfare dependence, child poverty, domestic violence, and other social ills.

Conclusion
There is now broad bipartisan recognition that healthy marriage is a natural protective institution that, in most cases, promotes the well-being of men, women, and children and that it is the foundation of a healthy society. Yet, for decades, government policy has remained indifferent or hostile to marriage. Government programs sought merely to pick up the pieces as marriages failed or, worse, actively undermined marriage.

President Bush seeks to change this policy of indifference and hostility. There is no group that will gain more from this change than low-income single women, most of whom hope for a happy, healthy marriage in their future. President Bush seeks to provide young couples with the knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish their dreams. The Senate would be wise to affirm their support for marriage by passing welfare reform reauthorization and enacting the President's healthy marriage initiative.

Robert E. Rector is Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies, and Melissa G. Pardue is a Policy Analyst in the Domestic Policy Studies Department, at The Heritage Foundation.

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