Beefing up the bureaucracy to promote marriage

No one expects the new Republican President to make government bigger by launching vast new federal agencies. But an analyst from the conservative Heritage Foundation says the federal government could do with one new bureau, and it's one that George W. Bush might approve.

Patrick F. Fagan, a senior fellow at Heritage, is urging Bush to take funds from three welfare programs within the Health and Human Services Department to begin a new Office of Marriage Initiatives. The idea is that the office could help address, in a compassionate conservative way, of course, what Fagan says is one of the root causes of poverty--the breakdown of the institution of marriage.

Bush has been on the marriage bandwagon himself for a while. He and Laura, his wife of 23 years, enthusiastically promoted marriage during the campaign. Last June, the couple praised the work of the Marriage Movement, a bipartisan group of clergy, lawmakers, and social workers whose mission is to strengthen marriage.

"Strengthening marriage will help families and children, build up civil society, boost opportunity, and spread social equality," the Bushes said. "Children in single-parent homes are more likely to live in poverty, have problems at school, bear children out of wedlock, and fall victim to the lure of illegal drugs and other risky behavior."

Fagan proposes reallocating some funds currently used by the government's main cash assistance program--Temporary Assistance to Needy Families--from the Child Support Enforcement Program, and from the Office of Family Planning into the new Office of Marriage Initiatives. Fagan also wants to merge the offices responsible for adolescent-pregnancy prevention and sexual-abstinence programs with the new office.

The office's mission would be to reduce the divorce rate (currently estimated at about 40 percent) and out-of-wedlock births (about a third of all babies) each by 30 percent, especially among welfare recipients, within the next decade.

Specifically, the new office would research and identify successful pro-marriage programs, share information about those programs, and design government-funded demonstration projects based on the findings. It would advise states on how to use surplus welfare money to increase marriage and decrease divorce and out-of-wedlock births.

The office, for example, could find and replicate the high school curricula most effective in encouraging marriage and teen-age sexual abstinence. It could rebuild the federal-state system for gathering data on marriage and divorce, and orient it more toward analyzing the impacts of divorce and out-of-wedlock births on federal spending.

Surplus funds in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program were close to $7 billion at the beginning of 2000, according to Fagan. "One of Congress's mandates to the states in the Welfare Reform Act was that they take steps to restore marriage among recipients, yet virtually no TANF money has been spent on such activities," Fagan wrote in his proposal. "An Office of Marriage Initiatives that acts as a repository of expertise on what states are doing to increase marriage, decrease divorce, and increase abstinence before marriage, thereby reducing out-of-wedlock births, would jump-start this process. Congress should require the states to devote a certain percentage of their [welfare] funds to these efforts."

No one knows whether the President will endorse Fagan's idea, but during the campaign, Bush did say, "As a society, we face few greater challenges than to ensure that more of America's children are raised by mothers and fathers in strong, healthy marriages."

The ring, please.

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