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NYTimes.com Article: Welfare Chief Is Hoping to Promote Marriage

  • Subject: [cg] NYTimes.com Article: Welfare Chief Is Hoping to Promote Marriage
  • From: adam.honigman@bowne.com
  • Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 12:52:39 -0500 (EST)

This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by adam.honigman@bowne.com.

This is the piece from today's NY Times that I tried to send you a link for earlier. My question, then as now, is how we can convince the govt. to contribute a fraction of this proposed $100M to promote community gardening in low income urban communities?

Best wishes,
Adam Honigman, 
Community gardener & happily married man


Welfare Chief Is Hoping to Promote Marriage

February 19, 2002 



WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 - Wade F. Horn, the Bush administration
official who oversees the welfare program, says "it would
be wholly inappropriate for the government to run a dating

Nor, he says, does he want to push poor women into
marriages with abusive boyfriends, as some feminists have

But Dr. Horn does want the federal government to promote
and encourage marriage more aggressively among low-income
people, and the administration is proposing to spend $100
million a year to do just that. 

The money is intended to finance experimental programs in
the states - like education campaigns on the importance of
marriage and premarital counseling for people who decide to
wed - to find out what works. The question of marriage, and
what the federal government should do to support it, is
expected to be front and center in the welfare debate this
year in Congress, as it reviews and reauthorizes the
landmark 1996 welfare law. 

The law imposed sweeping new work requirements for
recipients and saw substantial reductions in caseloads, but
many policy makers agree that it has been much less
successful in its other goals: to "reduce the incidence of
out-of-wedlock pregnancies" and to "encourage the formation
and maintenance of two- parent families." 

Some poverty experts point to progress in recent years.
Birth rates among teenagers have dropped substantially, for
example, and some studies have shown a rise in the
proportion of poor children living in two-parent

Wendell Primus, a former Clinton administration official
and an analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, a liberal research group, said such progress
should not be dismissed. "It's so hard to move social
trends," Mr. Primus argued. 

Still, many policy makers - including Tommy G. Thompson,
the secretary of Health and Human Services - say much more
should be done. A third of births were to unmarried women
in 2000, including 68.5 percent of the births among blacks,
according to data released last week by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. 

Children growing up in one-parent families are four times
as likely to be poor as those growing up in two- parent
households, said Isabel V. Sawhill, a welfare expert at the
Brookings Institution, a research organization in
Washington, and a former Clinton administration official. A
majority of families who end up in the welfare system,
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, are single-parent
households, experts said. 

Dr. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at
the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an
interview, "My central overriding concern is not marriage,
it is the well-being of children." 

He added that "the empirical literature is quite clear
that, on average, kids who grow up in stable, healthy,
married, two-parent households do better than kids who grow
up in some other kind of arrangement." 

Representative Wally Herger, the conservative California
Republican who is chairman of the House subcommittee that
will play a major role in reviewing the welfare law, said,
of the marriage programs, "I can't think of a better use of

But some poverty experts question whether the government's
promotion of marriage is the best way to deal with these
problems. "Marriage is a good thing," Ms. Sawhill said,
"and it would help kids a lot if more were born to married
parents, but I'm not sure we know how to do it." 

The problem is not the lack of marriage, she said, "it's
that people are having babies at an early age, before
they're ready to have babies or get married." 

The Bush administration wants to use the $100 million to
figure out what works, in part by underwriting
demonstration projects, Dr. Horn said. The money will be
redirected from another program that granted bonuses to
states where rates of out- of-wedlock births declined. 

Dr. Horn suggested that the experiments would revolve
around giving people the "skills and knowledge" to have a
healthy marriage, like premarital counseling or marital
enrichment classes. Mr. Thompson has said the
administration would also propose a matching grant program
"to strengthen families and reduce out-of-wedlock births."
The details of the administration's welfare proposal are
expected to be announced within the next month. 

Some states, using existing funds, have already started
marriage projects. Oklahoma, for example, is channeling
part of its federal welfare block grant to finance a
training course on marriage and relationship skills. The
course is available to all state residents. 

Some critics are dismayed at the notion of government
entering such an intimate realm. "This is a crowd that says
it wants to get government out of people's lives," said Kim
Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women,
"And here they are pushing people they don't even know to
get married." 

Ms. Gandy said that if the administration wanted to improve
the economic lot of women and children, it should provide
them more assistance. "To say that the path to economic
stability for poor women is marriage is an outrage," she

But Dr. Horn, a 47-year-old child psychologist who has been
married 25 years, insists there would be no coercion,
direct or indirect, in these efforts. "Here's the mission
statement," he said. " `We're going to support activities
that help couples who choose marriage for themselves
develop the skills and knowledge necessary to form and
sustain a healthy marriage.' " 

He added, "I just find it almost unfathomable why anyone
would be against helping a low-income family who chooses
marriage for themselves access the skills and knowledge to
build a healthy marriage." 

Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage
Foundation, scoffed at the idea that government should not
teach marriage skills. 

"A class on parenting, that's fine, a class on
breastfeeding, that's fine," Mr. Rector said, "but somehow
this particular matter is something we don't want to

Mr. Rector has advocated devoting much more federal welfare
money for promoting marriage. 

Referring to the rise in the percentage of children born to
unmarried women, to 33.2 percent in 2000 from 5 percent in
1960, Mr. Rector said, "This is something that's really
happened in the last 40 years." 

He added, "It's not socially inevitable, and it can be

Still, Bruce Reed, a domestic policy adviser in the Clinton
administration who played a major role in steering the 1996
law, said the best way to promote families was "to promote
and require work." 

"The theory behind the '96 law," Mr. Reed said, "was that
by requiring work and ending welfare as a way of life we
would get government out of the business of enabling a
culture of single parenthood. It took us a long time to get
into this mess. It's going to take a long time to get out
of it." 

Others maintain that simply easing the economic distress on
low- income, two-parent families would do more to
strengthen marriages than any class on relationship skills.
Dr. Horn said the government should do both. 

Dr. Horn is a longtime participant in the marriage and
fatherhood debates. He served in the previous Bush
administration, as commissioner for children, youth and
families, and later headed the National Fatherhood
Initiative, a private group intended to promote the
importance of fathers. 

Even before he joined the current Bush administration, he
was a strong advocate of public policies to encourage
marriage, arguing that too often the government was not
neutral on marriage but actually created disincentives
against it. 

The nomination to his current job generated some
controversy because in the mid-1990's he suggested that
government encourage marriage by giving preference to
married couples in programs like public housing. He has
since repudiated the idea. 

Dr. Horn said the moment is right for a new effort on

"Ninety percent of Americans either have been married, were
married or will be married," he said. "It isn't like some
product we have to sell. So how do we help people achieve
the goal of a healthy marriage, which most people say they

Low-income people, he said, were no different.


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