John Crouch and Mike McManus TANF Reauthorization testimony 4/11/02
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Thu Apr 11 14:23:06 EDT 2002
subject: John Crouch and Mike McManus TANF Reauthorization testimony 4/11/02
from: Smart Marriages
These testimonies should be very useful to those of you who are working at
the state level to promote marriage education legislation. Keep these on
file, or know you can always find them on the archive. - diane
Oral Testimony of John Crouch on Marriage Education in TANF
Reauthorization U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means
Human Resources Subcommittee April 11, 2002 [Written testimony - longer and
more comprehensive - is at http://www.divorcereform.org/411.html]
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. I appreciate the
opportunity to speak to you today. My name is John Crouch, and I'm a divorce
lawyer from Arlington, Virginia. It is that experience which motivates me to
be involved in the marriage movement. I am the Director of Americans for
Divorce Reform, a small all-volunteer organization that supports a variety
of measures to reduce divorce and improve marriage. We work with people
around the country who get in touch with us because they want to do
something about divorce.
As a divorce lawyer I have witnessed, and participated in, many of my
profession's attempts to improve the divorce process. I have found that our
ideal of "the good divorce" faces many obstacles that are deeply rooted in
our culture, our legal system, and in human nature. For most families, easy
divorce is a seductive and disastrous myth. Once they begin the process they
learn, too late, that there is not enough money, not enough of the
children's time, to go around. The same thing happens when unwed parents
I have come to believe that the most effective way to minimize the damage of
divorce is not to improve it, but to reduce it. We must keep doing what we
can to improve it, but new possibilities for marriage education and divorce
law reform provide a new and better hope for sustaining marriages.
Marriage Education is a proven success. It is no untried experiment. The
leading programs have been around for decades, like the Maryland-based
Relationship Enhancement curriculum, or the Florida-based PAIRS program,
which has been adapted by the American Bar Association for use in the public
schools. The PREP program, from the University of Denver, has been used in
the public sector for years. It is taught in the Army. It's also been taught
since 1994 by Chesterfield County, Virginia's public mental health center.
These programs, and their results, are described in my written materials,
and at smartmarriages.com. There is abundant evidence of exactly how
marriage education programs strengthen marriages and reduce divorce.
Marriage education does not come from think tanks or politicians. It comes
from psychologists, social workers, educators, chaplains, pastors and lay
volunteers who are out there working with couples. They have joined the
marriage movement in response to experience, not theory. Some of us come to
it from our work with families and children of divorce in the court system.
We have resolved to "go upstream" and try to prevent the incurable suffering
we deal with every day.
Marriage education is a poverty prevention program, so it should be open to
all, without means-testing. All children are put at risk by divorce and
illegitimacy. Statistics on specific risk factors can be found on Americans
for Divorce Reform's web site, www.divorcereform.org.
Marriage education is not "marriage promotion", but we support that, too,
for people who have already assumed the burdens of marriage by having a
child together. It's generally very wise to delay marriage until you are
prepared for all the responsibilities of parenthood, but it is tragically
frivolous to continue that policy when you already have a child to raise
Publicly-funded marriage education is fiscally responsible and does not
unduly increase government's role in society. (1) It can be provided very
simply and inexpensively, as the Chesterfield County program shows. (2)
Curriculum development and instructor accreditation are already provided, so
government doesn't need to replicate that work, or politicize it. (3)
Divorce and illegitimacy cause a lot of government spending and major
government involvement in families' lives. (4) Governments already provide
parenting classes, divorce classes, sex education, Family Life Education.
The only thing missing is marriage.
Divorce and illegitimacy are not sustainable choices for most families, or
for our society. Of all the things the federal government might do about
these compelling national problems, providing marriage education through
tested, proven programs is one of the most judicious, effective,
non-divisive, fiscally responsible steps it could take.
Thank you for having me here to speak to you. I'd be happy to answer any
questions you may have. For more information you can also go to Americans
for Divorce Reform's web site, www.divorcereform.org.
Testimony to Ways & Means Human Resources Subcommittee April 11, 2002
Answering Critics of Bush's Proposed Marriage Reforms by Michael J. McManus
President, Marriage Savers 9311 Harrington Dr. Potomac. MD 20854
President George Bush made the most important statement about marriage of
any president ever when he unveiled his plans to make marriage the next
reform of welfare reform. He acknowledged that "Single mothers do heroic
work," but added, "Their lives and their children's lives would be better if
their fathers had lived up to their responsibilities." Applause erupted
from largely black crowd at a Catholic Church in Southeast Washington.
The President said, "Statistics tell us that children from two parent
families are less likely to end up in poverty, drop out of school, become
addicted to drugs, have a child out of wedlock, suffer abuse or become a
violent criminal and end up in prison. So my Administration will give
unprecedented support to strengthening marriages," a remarkable statement
that sparked hearty applause.
Bush noted that there are "many good programs help couples who want to get
married and stay married. Premarital programs can increase happiness in
marriage and reduce divorce by teaching couples how to resolve conflict, how
to improve communication and, most importantly, how to treat each other with
The President is right. My wife and I created such a program in our church
and have taken it to hundreds of churches in scores of cities. Since 1992 in
our Bethesda, MD church, we trained 59 couples to mentor those preparing for
marriage. We administer FOCCUS, a premarital inventory that surfaces up to
192 issues for discussion. The man and woman meet separately and write down
whether they agree or disagree with statements like these: "I am concerned
that sometimes my future spouse spends money foolishly. "I am uncomfortable
with the amount my future spouse drinks. "At times I am concerned about the
silent treatment I get from my future spouse."
A computer report compares what the man and woman said, noting agreements
and conflicts. It can predict with about 80% accuracy who is likely to
divorce or have a solid marriage. And a tenth of the couples who take a
premarital inventory, break their engagement. Those who do have the same
scores as those who marry and later divorce. Thus, couples who break up
before a wedding are avoiding a bad marriage before it begins.
In our church we have added the element of trained mentor couples who have
been married more than 30 years on average. They devote five evenings to
talk through every issue as well as assign a dozen exercises to "teach them
how to resolve conflict, how to improve communication," as the President put
With what result? Of 302 couples who signed up through 2000, 21 dropped out
(mostly to break up) and 34 additional couples completed the course, but
broke up before there was a wedding. However, of those who married, there
have been only seven divorces in a decade. That's a 2.5 percent failure
The President praised another form of couple mentoring: "There are also
programs for couples with serious problems alcoholism, infidelity or
gambling. Trained mentor couples who have experienced severe marital
problems themselves now teach other couples how to repair their own
marriages. Using this approach, one national program reports being able to
save up to 70 percent of very troubled marriages." That describes
Retrouvaille (800 470-2230), a weekend retreat attended by 65,000 couples.
On average it saves four out of five marriages. Bush was also describing a
similar parish-based couple mentoring program called "Marriage Ministry,"
that uses trained "back-from-the-brink couples," which actually saves 90
percent of shaky marriages!
Finally, Bush proposed $300 million "to support innovation and fund programs
which are most effective." Why? "Strong marriages and stable families are
incredibly good for children."
Of course, critics have surfaced. I would like to quote them, and provide
1. Money: "It is unconscionable to reallocate already inadequate Temporary
Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) fund to policies designed to promote
marriage," says Stephanie Coontz and Nancy Folbre, professors at Evergreen
State College and the University of Massachusetts, in a speech they will
give at the Council on Contemporary Families April 26-28. Others have noted
this money could be spent on day care, job training
FACT: According to the Congressional Research Services' August 10, 2001
report, "Welfare Reform: TANF Grants, Transfers and Unspent Funds through FY
2000," there was a total of $8.6 billion of unspent TANF Funds that the
states could spend on day care, job training, etc. While some of that was
set aside for "rainy day" funds to be used in case of an economic slowdown,
$3.2 billion of those funds were "unobligated reserves." Thus, even the
lower figure is ten times as much money already available to the states as
the Bush Administration is proposing to spend to promote marriage. And the
$300 million being sought for marriage demonstration programs would not be
reallocated TANF funds.
2. Marriage is private: David Boaz, of the conservative Cato Institute, was
critical: "Marriage is one of the most intimate associations in our lives,
and the government should stay out of it."
FACT: First, government grants both marriage licenses and divorces. It is
already involved. Further, nothing could be more intrusive than the orders
given to a father in a divorce. He is told when he can see his children and
for how long. A certain percent of his income must be paid in child support,
even if the mother and children move far away preventing him from any
regular access to his children. He even may have a restraining order
forbidding him from seeing his children or talking to them on the phone.
Billions are spent annually to enforce child support.
3. Forcing marriage to abusive fathers: NOW President Kim Gandy asserts:
"To say to these women, where the father of their children has abandoned
them or abused them, `You've got to track him down and marry him or your
check is going to be reduced,' that's terrible.'"
FACT: No one has proposed reducing the welfare check of a woman who does not
marry the father, and no one has proposed marrying an abusive father.
Indeed, HHS Assistant Secretary Wade Horn, who oversees welfare, replies,
"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." Who could reasonably object to that?
4. "We don't need to encourage more people to marry:" Isabel Sawhill, a
senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, made this claim in an article,
"Is Lack of Marriage the Real Problem?" in a special issue of The American
Prospect "The Politics of Family," in the current edition. She writes: "The
problem is not that people don't marry. Ninety percent of all American
women are married by the age of 45."
FACT: Her number was not correct even a generation ago, nor is it today. The
Census reports in America's Families and Living Arrangements 2000, issued in
June, 2001 that nearly two in ten have not married by age 45, specifically,
18.1%. More alarming, another 15.5% of men and women were unmarried between
the ages of 35 and 45, almost triple the 6.1% of the unmarried in this age
bracket in 1970. Many of them will never marry. The fact is marriage rates
have plunged in this country. In 1960, 66% of Americans were married and
living together, but only 53% were married and sharing a home in 2000.
Why? Cohabitation has become the dominant way male-female unions are
formed. In 2000, 4.9 million couples were living together, according to the
Census at any moment in time, That is 11 times the 430,000 doing so in 1960.
By contrast, there are only 2.3 million marriages in an entire year.
FACT: Cohabitation is the problem. It is a triple cancer of marriage:
Cohabitation has diverted millions from getting married at all. In 1970,
only 21 million Americans had never married; by 2000 the figure jumped 124%
to 47 million, while population grew by only 38%. Cohabitating before
marriage increases the odds of divorce by 50% compared to those who have
never lived together, according to the University of Wisconsin. Fully 41%
of cohabiting couples have a child, which is far more likely to spark a
breakup than a marriage. Indeed, as cohabitation has soared 11-fold since
1960, out-of-wedlock births have also shot up from 5% of all births to 33%
in 2000. While welfare reform has been successful in cutting welfare rolls
by 58%, the illegitimacy rate has continued to rise. In 1996, when welfare
reform was passed, 1.26 million babies were born out-of-wedlock, or 32.4% of
all births. In 2000 the figure rose to 1,346,000 births or 33.1% of births.
Isabel Sawhill asserts the problem is out-of-wedlock births to teens:
"Although only 30% of all out-of-wedlock births are to teens, half of first
out-of-wedlock births are to women under age 20." However, half of first
births are not to teens, and the Princeton Fragile Families study reports
that more than half of those births were to cohabiting parents. As I see
it, the primary problem is the cohabitation of adults, who have babies out
5. Marriages won't solve the problem: "Will more marriages solve this
problem? Hardly. Marriages among teenagers are notoriously unstable," Ms
However, nearly a million births to unmarried mothers are aged 20 or older,
with 449,000 over age 25. More than half who are cohabiting and another
third are romantically involved, with the father at the time of the birth.
Why shouldn't we encourage those couples to marry? Let's be honest. If they
do not marry the father of their child, the odds are they will be a single
mom the rest of their lives. Few men want to marry a woman with another
man's child. So their real choice is marry the father of their child or
never marry. These couples would be much better off getting married, rather
than living together, and bringing children into the world before they have
made a commitment to one another. Nearly half of male cohabitants (47%) are
over age 35 and 42% of women. Surely, they are old enough to make a mature
She's right that too many women are giving birth before they marry. But if
they become pregnant, what should they do if they are not to abort? I say
they should create healthy marriages.
Theodora Ooms, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social
Policy, wrote in the same issue of The American Prospect, "The majority of
these parents are committed to each other and to their child and have high
hopes of eventual marriage and a future together, although these hopes too
often are not realized. We should reach out to young parents to help them
achieve their desire to remain together as a family. A helpful package of
services to offer these young families might include a combination of `soft'
services - relationship-skills and marriage- education workshops, financial
management classes...and `hard' services, such as job training and
placement, housing, medical coverage," she writes.
Finally, I'd argue that similar services ought to be offered to the 246,000
mothers who are young adults, aged 18-19. If the couple is in love, they
should consider marriage, and the society should help them to make it.
What are their odds of divorce? A study in Family Planning Perspectives
reports that even without help, 85% of those young parents who marry, are
married five years later and 75 percent are still married a decade later.
6. "Plenty of women justifiably leave abusive marriages." That assertion by
Robert Kuttner, founder and co-editor of The American Prospect,implies that
most women who divorce are doing so because they were physically abused.
FACT: A Gallup Poll of 1,213 adults found that only 5% of people who
divorced say the problem was physical abuse. In only 17% of cases was
infidelity the issue, and drug or alcohol abuse was involved in 16%. The
big issue is "incompatibility" mentioned by 47% of respondents, and another
10% said it was arguments over money, family or children. Thus in nearly
three-fifths (57%) of the cases, the problem was poor communication -- which
caused TEN TIMES as many breakups as physical abuse.
What has been demonstrated by groups like PAIRS, PREP, and Marriage Savers,
is that these skills can be taught by lay people, ideally by Mentor Couples.
One study of PREP found that couples trained in its technique of resolving
conflict had 50% lower divorce rates than those with standard marriage
preparation. In my home church, out of 302 couples who signed up for
marriage prep, as noted above, we have had only 7 divorces in a decade, a
2.5% failure rate!
7. "Sometimes a good divorce is better than a bad marriage." That assertion
by E. Mavis Hetherington, a Professor of Psychology at the University of
Virginia, and co-author (with John Kelly) of For Better or Worse: Divorce
Reconsidered," poses a false hypothesis. The key question is this, can a
bad marriage become a good one?
FACT: First, most people do not divorce because of a bad marriage
Professor Paul Amato of Johns Hopkins has found that "Very few people
getting divorced mention serious problems, such as mental abuse, violence,
alcohol or drug problems. Instead, people mention: `We have been growing
apart. We don't feel as close as we once were. The quality of our
communication is not as good as it should be.
. Amato has been conducting a longitudinal study in which he has
interviewed 2000 married people in 1980, 1983, 1988, 1992, 1997, and 2000.
He has interviewed the children of these marriages after they reach 19. The
majority of 691 children grew up with continuously married parents. Some 21%
experienced divorce and 15% were in homes where the parents stayed married,
but had unresolved conflict. Amato confirms that children experiencing
divorce reached adulthood with less education, are not as close to their
parents, have more symptoms of depression, and were less happy. He confirms
that fewer marry and if they do, are more likely to divorce themselves.
What is surprising about his findings is that of 295 couples who divorced,
only 40% were in marriages with very low happiness, with few positive
interactions and much conflict. In 60% of the divorces, the couple's
happiness was average. Their positive interaction is average. They had no
more than average conflict. In other words, three out of five couples who
divorce are no more unhappy or conflicted than married couples who stayed
Such couples do not have sufficient reason to punish their children by
divorce. In these marriages which Amato calls "good enough marriages," the
unilateral decision of one partner to walk out is unexpected, stunning and
inexplicable. He said, "Most children don't care about midlife crisis; they
don't care about how deep the level is of their parents' elf-actualization.
They want regular access to both parents. Many of these good enough
marriages can be salvaged."
FACT: Even terrible marriages can be saved in four out of five cases:
The vast majority of even terrible marriages can be saved with remarkably
little effort. Let me give three answers, referred to briefly above:
1. Retrouvaille is a weekend retreat in which couples whose marriages once
nearly failed, who I call "back-from-the-brink" couples --
share details about how they overcame years of adultery, alcoholism,
neglect, verbal or physical abuse, and have gone on to build great
marriages. The results are spectacular. Of 2,000 couples who have attended
in Michigan, a third had already filed divorce papers, yet 80% rebuilt their
marriages. Two- fifths of more than 1,000 couples in Fort Worth had already
separated or divorced, yet 70% reconciled and are still together. Buffalo's
Retrouvaille has saved 90% of its marriages. Nationally, about 65,000
couples have attended Retrouvaille, and on average, four out of five
marriages are saved.
2. Marriage Ministry is a similar proven way to save couples headed for
divorce courts - - but it is based in a local church. St. David's Episcopal
Church in Jacksonville, Florida trained seven couples whose marriages nearly
failed to help those now in trouble. One woman had been in an adulterous
affair for eight years. A man was a bisexual, who once had homosexual
affairs on the side. Another man was an alcoholic who lost his job and was
out of work two years. Their pain qualified them to be Mentor Couples who
worked with 40 troubled marriages, and they saved 38 of them -- a 95%
success rate. My organization, Marriage Savers, has planted this Marriage
Ministry in dozens of other churches with a stunning 90% success rate. We
can train back-from-the-brink couples to tell their story to couples in
crisis, over a Friday night and all day Saturday.
By contrast with this remarkable track record, professional therapists are
no where near as successful. Diane Sollee, head of Smart Marriages and the
former Associate Director of the American Association of Marriage and Family
Therapy, says therapists save less than 20% of the marriages they work with.
In fact, they often counsel couples to divorce, which is outrageous.
Why are lay couples able to save 80% to 90% of marriages when professionally
trained counselors are so ineffectual? The major reason marriages fail is
selfishness. The major reason the good ones succeed is selflessness.
What's needed is spiritual, conversion, a recognition that one needs to
replace selfishness with selflessness. That can best be inspired by seeing
walking parables, couples who once stood on the brink of divorce for very
good reasons but then stepped back, and saved their marriage. Like a
12-stepper of Alcoholics Anonymous, a couple who has been in the pits and
rebuilt their marriage -- has a credibility that no pastor or counselor has.
A couple who had lived through adultery, for example, and remained together
can tell a younger couple in crisis because she found out that he was
cheating on her: "We know adultery breaks trust. We have been there, done
that. But we are here to tell you that trust can be restored. We have done
it. Let us tell you how we rebuilt trust. Let us pray with you about this."
3. Stick to the Vows: Finally, consider a study by Professor Linda Waite,
of the University of Chicago, which drew remarkable findings from the
National Survey of Families and Households, a huge study of 13,000 people.
"Of those couples who said their marriages were very unhappy in 1987, 82%
were still married five years later. And if they were still married, 90%
said they were very happy! I was surprised that so many who were unhappy
were still together, and that the vast majority said their marriage was
terrific or very good, though it was the same marriage! The worst marriages
showed the most improvement," Dr. Waite says.
Every marriage has bad patches. What's needed is for people to only stick
to their vows made at the altar, to remain together "for better for worse,
for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
till death do us part."
8. Marriage can't be re-established. "There is no way to re-establish
marriage as the main site of child rearing," argues Stephanie Coontz in The
American Prospect. "There is no way to reverse this trend short of a
repressiveness that would not long be tolerated even in today's patriotic
FACT: The divorce rate of Modesto, CA has plunged 48% and its marriage rate
has risen 14% between 1986 and 2000, at a time the U.S. marriage rate fell
18% since the clergy of that area adopted a "Community Marriage Policy" in
1986 at my suggestion. Some 95 pastors, priests and a rabbi accepted my
suggestion that there ought to be at least four months of marriage
preparation that includes taking a premarital inventory, discussing it with
an older, mentoring couple, improving their skills of communication and
conflict resolution and studying Scripture. They also accepted my
suggestion for taking steps to improve the marriages of couples in their
congregations, and to save troubled ones. Pastors said their goal was to
"radically reduce the divorce rate of those married in area churches."
Obviously, much more than that has been accomplished.
FACT: With 1,250 divorces being avoided per year and 880 more marriages a
year, more Modesto area children are growing up in secure homes. The result
is that school dropouts have fallen 20% and births to teenagers, by 30%.
Healthy marriages are good for kids!
FACT: Divorces Plunge in 34 Cities: Marriage Savers, the organization my
wife and I founded, has helped the clergy of 159 towns and cities to create
Community Marriage Policies, or Community Marriage Covenants. A national
study is now being conducted on their impact. Before those results are
available, we know that divorces have plunged in 34 out of 36 cities with
Divorces fell 6% in one year, in Tallahassee, Baton Rouge, Springdale, AR
and Columbus, GA In a single year, Harrisonburg, VA divorces plunged 15%
and by 24% in Cedar Rapids, IA. Peoria's divorce rate has fallen 28% in
seven years. Austin, Texas divorces fell 37% from 3,466 in 1995, the year
before signing a CMP, to only 2,173 in 2000 a huge 37% drop. Kansas
City, KS divorces plummeted 43% in only five years in a two county area from
1,530 in 1995 to only 874 in 2000.
FACT: Community Marriage Policies/Covenants create a new day for marriage
and an old one for divorce. Here is how the Heritage Foundation put it
"A well-executed Community Marriage Covenant... can save up to 80% of
marriages headed for divorce, reconcile more than half of the separated
couples, and enable 80 of those in stepfamilies to be successful parents and
Conclusion: The critics of President's Bush's proposal to spend $300 million
to improve marriage, really do not have sound arguments. The sum is very
modest and would not reduce welfare funds. We do need to encourage some
people to marry -- particularly those who are living together. Marriage can
be re-established as the norm for most men and women. Healthy marriages will
lift millions out of poverty. Welfare spending has not done it. As Bush
noted in his speech, "Between 1965 and 1995, federal and state spending on
poor and low income families increased from around $40 billion to more than
$350 billion a year. Yet during the same 30-year period we made virtually
no progress -- no progress reducing child poverty. And the number of
children born out of wedlock grew from one in 13 to one in three."
The 1996 welfare reform law reduced welfare rolls by more than 50 percent.
Equally important, it made a major dent in poverty. There are 5.4 million
fewer people in poverty, and the poverty rate for blacks is at an historic
As even Stephanie Coontz and Nancy Folbre concede, "According to recent
census figures, 6 percent of married couple families with children live in
poverty, compared to 33 percent of families headed by single moms. To many
the conclusion seems obvious. Marry off those single moms and they reduce
their risk of poverty by a factor of more than 5, right? Plus their children
will do better in a two-parent family. It's not quite that simple," they
However, as The Washington Post editorialized on April 5, "Why not find out
whether helping mothers - and fathers - tackle the challenging task of
getting and staying married could help families find their way out of
poverty?" In a letter to the editor, Mr. Kuttner disagreed: "Marriage is not
a panacea." He is wrong. Married people are healthier, happier, live longer,
are much wealthier and have better sex than single people, according to A
Case for Marriage by Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite. And their kids are
far less likely to drop out of school and become pregnant or delinquent.
The institution of marriage is in a massive state of collapse, with
disastrous consequences to tens of millions of people. First, there have
been more than a million divorces a year for 30 years affecting a million
children a year. Now another 1.3 million more are born to unmarried parents
There is an answer. And it is obvious -- healthy marriages.
Why is $300 million needed? Two-thirds of Americans are members of a church
or synagogue, 69% according to George Gallup. And he reports that 55% of
African Americans attend church in any given week. Organized religion
clearly has access to most Americans. Yet only 1 percent of America's
300,000 congregations have marriage mentors today. And there are almost none
in African-American churches. A massive effort must be undertaken to recruit
and train those mentor couples to reach out and provide a "safety net" to
those who are married, getting married and those having babies
If only a third of churches and synagogues each trained ten couples by 2010,
there would be a million mentoring couples! Surely they could cut the
divorce rate in half and increase the marriage rate! I said that in a
recent column, a column called "Ethics & Religion" which I have written
weekly since 1981.
Is it realistic to think the nation's divorce rate could be slashed by 50%
within a decade? Christianity Today quoted me on my vision in an editorial
"If McManus's projections are at all reasonable and if we put our minds to
the task they are we could save approximately 600,000 marriages (a year)
by 2010. If that vision doesn't motivate us, what will?"
In any case, we at Marriage Savers are ready to put our shoulder to the
Michael J. McManus
Co-Founder & President Marriage Savers
email: MichaelJMcManus at CS.com
Next National Training to
Create a Marriage Savers Congregation: July 10-11 in Washington DC at
the Smart Marriages Conference
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