The President of the United States has proposed the federal budget – his wish list of revenues and expenses covering the period October 1, 2011 – September 30, 2012. Budgets, whether federal, nonprofit or family, are statements of priorities, goals and hopes. AtMP keeps an eye on certain federal budget lines that show whether the government promotes legal, different-sex marriage as being better than other relationships or family forms.
Unfortunately, while cutting things people really need, the President is proposing to fund two marriage-related programs that should be abandoned because they are insulting at best, and downright dangerous at worst:
- the grant program called Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood is still carving out $150 million per year from welfare funds under the umbrella of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- to paraphrase our friends at SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States), the President is also continuing to put $50 million a year into Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which have been widely discredited and proven by the federal government’s own study to be ineffective.
I’ll get to the second program another time. Today I’m wondering: Why are the TANF programs still funded?
Marriage programs are not a presidential priority. In his budget statement, Obama does not mention marriage at all. He does discuss fatherhood, mostly in the context of the very good idea of urging states to let fathers’ child support payments reach their children instead of getting absorbed into state treasuries. But it took quite a bit of digging to find any reference to this funding continuation (fellow wonks, see page 473).
The administration knows that marriage programs don’t work. An evaluation of an eight-site TANF-funded marriage program found no net effects on participants’ relationships.
The President’s team tried to replace marriage programs last year. Joshua Dubois – Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships – spearheaded a campaign to replace marriage programs with a potentially better, experimental package focused on the economic needs of low-income parents. (We commented on it extensively here.)
Congress moved money from marriage to fatherhood last year. When Congress extended budget lines instead of passing a whole budget last year, it assigned $75 million instead of $100 million to marriage programs. Fatherhood programs got a corresponding increase from $50 to 75 million.
In sum, I see a glimmer of hope. Although the title and size of the budget item is the same, maybe there’s a plan to develop a completely different kind of operating program using that money. AtMP and our allies will keep an eye on it, and we’ll weigh in with suggestions about how federal funds could be put to good use to reduce poverty and improve child outcomes.
Here are some basic components: financial assistance to cover food, shelter, health care etc; early childhood education; relationship skills and supports to help adults be great parents and partners. Want more ideas about how reducing poverty can improve a child’s prospects ? There’s a compelling article by Duncan and Magnuson article starting on page 25 of this magazine on poverty, inequality and social policy.