Use Welfare Money to Promote Marriage 

Fatherly Advice
Dr. Wade F. Horn
President, The National Fatherhood Initiative

Use Welfare Money to Promote Marriage

April 4, 2000

    I have spent much of the past four years traveling around the country 
exhorting state officials to spend some of their welfare dollars on 
activities which promote marriage, both as a means of reducing welfare 
rolls (married adults are significantly less likely to be poor than unmarried 
adults) and as a means of improving child well-being.

    Everywhere I went, my exhortations resulted either in disbelief that 
welfare funds could be spent for such a purpose or with scornful 
dismissals that marriage is none of government's business.  Given such reactions, it 
was not surprising that no state had spent even a penny on activities to 
promote marriage.  All of that changed on Tuesday, March 21 -- and not a moment 
too soon.

    A little background.  Congressionally enacted welfare reform did many 
things.  It required that the vast majority of welfare recipients go to 
work; it placed a five year time limit on the receipt of welfare; and it 
replaced an open-ended federal entitlement to cash welfare with a block grant, 
giving states much more flexibility in how they spend federal welfare dollars.

    But welfare reform legislation did more than all that.  It added the 
idea that from now on, welfare would also be about promoting marriage, that 
welfare funds could -- and should -- be used to promote the formation and 
maintenance of two-parent families.

    Theoretically, states could have devoted 100 percent of their welfare 
block-grant funds to this purpose.  More realistically, they were 
expected to devote at least some portion of these funds to promote marriage.  In 
actuality, states devoted nothing -- not one red cent.

    Until March 21, that is.  In a bold move, Governor Keating of 
Oklahoma announced on that date that he would be using $10 million in federal 
welfare block-grant funds to encourage healthy, stable marriages as a means of 
reducing divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and welfare dependency. 

    His announcement was a follow-up to his launching of an Oklahoma 
Marriage Initiative last year.  Since then, the Governor and First Lady Cathy 
Keating have been busy laying the groundwork for this bold initiative by speaking 
with leaders from a variety of sectors of Oklahoma life -- including 
business, the faith community, education, social services, government, 
the courts, and the media -- seeking input as to how marriage can be 
strengthened most effectively.

    Governor Keating and his wife have also held several public meetings 
on the topic.  As a result, in his recent inaugural and State of the State 
addresses, the Governor laid out his ambitious goal of reducing the 
state's divorce rate by one-third by the end of the decade.

    Although the action plan for this initiative has not yet been 
finalized, major activities will most likely include the development of a Marriage 
Resource Center; a public education campaign emphasizing the importance 
of marriage; youth outreach to change the attitudes of young people about 
the virtues and advantages of marriage; encouragement of pre-marital 
counseling; and the integration of pro-marriage activities into existing social 
service delivery systems.

    This is extraordinary news.  My hope is that other states will follow 
Governor Keating's lead and use at least some of their welfare 
block-grant surpluses to develop marriage initiatives of their own.

    Plenty of surplus money is available in state welfare block-grant 
funds -- $7.5 billion to be exact.  Although some states have already dedicated 
some of these surplus funds for other purposes, it is estimated that at least 
$4.2 billion is available for marriage-promoting activities.  Given the 
current weakened state of marriage in America, we'll need to spend a whole lot 
more than $10 million dollars out of this $4.2 billion surplus to revitalize 

    There are signs that the floodgates for spending on marriage 
initiatives are opening.  The Wisconsin Legislature, for example, recently designated 
$45,000 in welfare funds to be used to hire a person "to develop 
community-wide standards for marriages solemnized in the state."

    Moreover, state Rep. Mark Anderson has introduced a bill into the 
Arizona Legislature to spend $17 million in welfare funds to teach communication 
and conflict resolution skills to high school students, give tax credits to 
couples who take such a course, and develop a public education campaign 
extolling the virtues of marriage.

    There will, of course, be the inevitable nay-sayers.  A regrettable 
alliance of critics from both the libertarian right and the 
we-hate-marriage left will assert that government has no business promoting marriage.  
Some fiscal conservatives will join in and argue that we can't afford to spend 
tax dollars on such things.

    These critics, of course, will be wrong.  Marriage is indispensable 
to the well-being of a healthy society, more important than a rising Dow 
Jones Industrial Average or trigger locks on handguns.  That's because research 
consistently finds that communities with high marriage rates have fewer 
social pathologies, including less crime and less welfare dependency, 
than communities with low marriage rates.  If marriage is good for 
communities, why should government be shy about promoting and strengthening it?

    Governor Keating addressed these critics himself when he said at the 
launching of this initiative, "Frankly, some people asked Cathy and me 
what business the government has getting involved in marriage.  But when you 
look at the consequences of divorce, the better question is: 'What business do 
we have not getting involved?'"

    None that I can think of, Governor.  None at all.

Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a 
clinical child psychologist, and co-author of several books on parenting 
including the Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book (Meredith, 1998) 
and the Better Homes and Gardens New Teen Book (Meredith, 1999).  Send your 
question about dads, children or fatherhood to: The National Fatherhood 
Initiative, 101 Lake Forest Blvd, Suite 360, Gaithersburg, MD  20877, or 
e-mail him at

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