Washington State moves to test-drive Bush plan -4/15/02
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Thu Apr 18 09:20:21 EDT 2002
subject: Washington State moves to test-drive Bush plan -4/15/02
from: Smart Marriages
Plus: Welfare and marriage: A table talk with single mothers attached at
> The marriage proposal is modest Washington state spends three times as
> much per year on welfare grants and related programs but it has policy and
> political implications that reverberate beyond its dollar value.
> The state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) already has
> assigned a senior administrator to gather information and examples from
> private efforts under way here and in other states.
> "Marriage is a good thing, a good situation for children to be in," said Ken
> Miller, the governor's chief welfare-reform adviser. "We're looking for ways
> to invest in it, and for examples of how government can do something to help
> people make smart choices."
> Even if the marriage push fizzles at the federal level, DSHS officials say
> Washington is likely to move ahead possibly offering cash bonuses or
> forgiving a portion of outstanding child-support payments owed to the state
> if parents reconcile, or training welfare workers to refer people to
> marriage counseling.
> Several private and faith-based programs already promote marriage. One of
> the biggest is led by Families Northwest, a conservative, statewide
> organization based in Bellevue.
> "Very few are going through the driver's training before the license is
> issued," Krafsky said.
Jason Krafsky will present a workshop #712 "Marriage Movement: Generation
Next" on the Washington Families Northwest program at the Smart Marriages
conference. He'll also be part of the panel in session #813 on Grass Roots
efforts. - diane
Local News: Sunday, April 14, 2002
State moves to test-drive Bush plan
By Jolayne Houtz Seattle Times staff reporter
President Bush's emphasis on wedding bells for welfare recipients is
stirring a national debate about marriage and poverty and prompting state
officials here to study ways of encouraging low-income parents to marry.
Bush's plan, announced in February, would dedicate up to $300 million a year
for research and demonstration projects on family formation and healthy
marriages. And it would set up a grant program encouraging states and tribes
to find innovative ways to promote marriage and reduce out-of-wedlock
It's one of the most-controversial pieces of Bush's plan to change the
welfare system, coming as Congress begins debate this month on whether to
renew the welfare law President Clinton signed in 1996. That law, which
expires Sept. 30, requires welfare recipients to work and puts a five-year
lifetime limit on aid.
Marriage was a feature of the 1996 law, but states focused on reducing
welfare caseloads through child-care subsidies, job training and placement.
Bush's approach is to provide states with financial incentives to focus on
marriage and require states to show how they're doing that, setting
performance goals and reporting results annually.
Backers of the plan say the well-being of children is at stake. They say
research shows children raised by married parents are less likely to
struggle in school, grow up poor, have mental-health problems, commit crimes
or abuse drugs.
Critics counter that it's naïve to suggest marriage is the road out of
poverty. They say government resources are better spent helping low-income
families of all kinds to become self-sufficient.
The marriage proposal is modest Washington state spends three times as
much per year on welfare grants and related programs but it has policy and
political implications that reverberate beyond its dollar value.
The state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) already has
assigned a senior administrator to gather information and examples from
private efforts under way here and in other states.
"Marriage is a good thing, a good situation for children to be in," said Ken
Miller, the governor's chief welfare-reform adviser. "We're looking for ways
to invest in it, and for examples of how government can do something to help
people make smart choices."
Eligibility for welfare is strictly based on income in Washington; marital
status doesn't matter. But having two incomes makes it harder to meet the
program's income guidelines.
About 57 percent of the 57,000 welfare recipients in Washington are single
parents; about 12 percent are two-parent families. (The rest are child-only
cases.) Nearly half of all adult welfare clients have never been married.
Even if the marriage push fizzles at the federal level, DSHS officials say
Washington is likely to move ahead possibly offering cash bonuses or
forgiving a portion of outstanding child-support payments owed to the state
if parents reconcile, or training welfare workers to refer people to
Several private and faith-based programs already promote marriage. One of
the biggest is led by Families Northwest, a conservative, statewide
organization based in Bellevue.
So far, 700 churches of 40 denominations in 24 communities across the state
have signed marriage and family agreements. They pledge to set minimum
standards for couples who want to get married in their churches, including
premarital counseling and parenting seminars.
Executive director Jeff Kemp says he welcomes the increasing attention from
"The fact that government declares marriage to be important the use of the
bully pulpit that's a great help," he said. Eight in 10 Washington
marriages are performed by clergy members, said Jason Krafsky of Families
Northwest, but only one-third of couples get premarital counseling. Many
clergy members said they wanted to provide more counseling, but if they made
it a requirement, couples would look for another church.
"Very few are going through the driver's training before the license is
issued," Krafsky said.
But not all marriages are created equal, and not every couple has an equal
shot at a happy union, argues a new study co-written by Stephanie Coontz, a
history and family-studies professor at The Evergreen State College in
Olympia. She also co-chairs the national Council on Contemporary Families, a
group of family researchers and clinicians.
Census figures show that five times as many families headed by single women
live in poverty as do those headed by two parents.
But low-income women tend to have fewer skills, lower education and lower
earning potential, putting them at a disadvantage in finding a good mate,
she said. "The kind of men they meet are less likely to be good marriage
risks," with higher rates of incarceration as well as low education and
earnings potential, Coontz said.
On average, it's worse for children to live through an unstable relationship
and divorce than to live in a poor, single-parent family, she argues.
Sunday, April 14, 2002
Welfare and marriage: A table talk with single mothers
Children raised by married parents are healthier, wealthier and more likely
to be successful in school and in life than those from single-parent homes,
say backers of President Bush's $300 million plan to promote marriage for
people on welfare.
Poverty is about money, not marriage, advocates for the poor counter.
To cut through the political rhetoric, we wanted to hear from a different
kind of expert: low-income single moms raising their children alone.
What follows are highlights of a conversation with four of those women,
edited for space and clarity. Their views about men, money and marriage
differed, but on this they agreed: Bush's marriage push offers little real
help in their struggle to get out of poverty.
About 32,500 single parents are on welfare in Washington, the vast majority
of them women.
These four are not meant to be a representative sample. What they offer are
insights into the day-to-day reality of being poor and a gut check on policy
proposals with very real implications for their lives.
Jolayne Houtz, Seattle Times staff reporter
Times: Did you grow up with married parents? What kind of role models did
Sandra Woods I, 40, mother of four, never married: "My grandmother raised
eight of us. My mother had a nervous breakdown due to the fact that she was
with several men that abused her. So no, I don't see it as a joy, joy, joy
atmosphere. I also don't say that it's not a possibility. But you have to
make that decision on your own, and you don't need the department of social
services or lovely George W. Bush to tell us what to do with our lives. Stay
out of it."
Sylvia Sabon, 39, mother of two, never married: "My father married twice,
once to my mom, then he married my stepmom and my brother was born. That
marriage was alcohol and d.v. (domestic violence). I used to take my brother
into a room and hide him so he wouldn't hear that. And I tried to not get
into that situation. Then I go and have two kids by a guy who does the same
thing. So my theory is to be a role model for my kids and not put them in a
situation where there's d.v., like I went through."
Erin Welch, 26, mother of one, never married: "My parents were married until
I was in third grade, but my dad wasn't really around. When I was in third
grade, my mom said we're going to Washington. I haven't spoken with him
Times: Growing up, did you envision yourself being married?
Welch: "I only know about eight people who have, like, a mom and dad and
kids it's a minority. You can just look at society, and it's really
obvious that marriage, the state it's in right now, is not exactly something
to be coveted."
Times: Do you feel singled out as low-income women by Bush's plan?
All four at once: "Yes."
Welch: "The whole idea of family formation as being the fix-it to poverty
that right there sets up this whole unequal relationship. Their definition
of family is patriarchy in the most fundamental sense of the word. They're
well-aware of the fact that model is disintegrating rapidly in our country,
and I just feel like that's one of their ways of tightening in the reins."
Woods: "What are they going to do, set us up? Are we going to have a
getting-to-know-you-better, all the single African-American males have a
meeting at McDonald's or something? (laughing) We're going to give you a
year to do the dating process, then, you know, the man is doing the best
performance of his life for that year. And then that year is over, and he
may show his real true side. And then here we are, with the love of our
lives beating the heck out of us, or abusing our children, or dismantling
our independence as women, and thank you, George Bush."
Times: For $440 a month, the typical welfare grant, does the government have
a right to tell you who should be in your home?
Welch: "For $1,000 a month, for $10,000 a month, they don't have that
Cindy Hutchings, 42, divorced mother of two: "They're overstepping the zone
of privacy and the right to make that personal, private decision about who
you're going to marry and share your life with. They don't know what it's
like to live in low-income situations. They want to make policy that affects
our lives, and they have no idea what it's like."
Times: Doesn't government have a legitimate interest if it's true that
children are better off in married households?
Sabon: "My kids have one parent, and I think they're better off because now
they don't witness that d.v. anymore and don't have to wake up in the middle
of night and run out of the apartment to a friend's house. They have
memories of their father and I fighting. The kids are better off without
their father in their lives."
Times: Domestic violence tell me about that.
Sabon: "We both used to drink. I quit but he's still drinking. We'd drink
and then fight over money, then he would walk out and go to the bar while I
was stuck with two kids, little babies, then he'd come back again and fight
some more. Finally, I put myself into treatment, and we've been separated
since. In a lot of women's situations, they're afraid to take that step
because they're so dependent on that income they get, $20 or $50 or
Woods: "The circumstances have made us by ourselves, due to the fact of
domestic violence or drug abuse or imprisonment or abandonment. I'm not
saying all men are bad men. I'm saying they need to have plans set up where
the man can be self-sufficient, that you can uplift that man. Have you
helped him with his drug addiction? Have you helped him get employment and
training? Have you helped him find a secure (job) where he'll get benefits?
How is he going to help me without those things?"
Hutchings: "I don't want to be with a man that I don't feel safe with. If
you're maybe under the threat of not being able to pay your rent because
(the Department of Social and Health Services, or DSHS) is going to sanction
you and cut you off if you don't get married, you might rush into a decision
that could be worse for you and your kids. Knowing the way DSHS works,
caseworkers are going to interpret it in a way that is coercive."
Times: What do your kids say? Do they ever ask where's daddy or why aren't
Woods: "It's not a sense of me and him not communicating; it's me making a
choice that I don't want to go back into the relationship. I don't hate him,
I don't put that in front of the children. I try to keep it where they make
their decision on their father. I don't want George Bush to make a decision
on their father. I don't need the department of social services making a
decision on their father."
Sabon: "My kids cry for their dad. He called me the other day, and I said,
'You need to talk to me. You need to take responsibility. I'm doing this all
on my own. You need to start helping. You missed their birthdays, you missed
their Christmas.' The kids, they miss him."
Hutchings: "My kids have really good visitation with their dad. They see him
every other weekend and actually seem pretty well-adjusted."
Welch: "Just a couple months ago, I asked (my son's) father not to pick him
up or drop him off until he could be more consistent about it, because he
was completely irregular. He would show up on days he wasn't supposed to and
then not show up on days he was, or call and cancel 10 minutes before he was
supposed to pick him up. I was having to involve other people in my life
like standbys and screwing up their schedules and screwing up my own
schedule, so then when I asked him not to pick him up anymore, he hasn't
seen him since. You can't force them to be consistent or reliable, not even
by marrying them."
Times: Do you have time to look for interesting men to meet?
Woods: "Oh, no. Our time is all assigned by the lovely government. I come
here from 9 to 2:30 (as an intern with the Welfare Rights Organizing
Coalition), I go to community jobs, and I just got enrolled in computer
training, along with job search and night school. And I am mandated to get
employment. I have one more year to be on (welfare) before time limits kick
in. There's no time left for a relationship."
Welch: "My day lasts from 6 in the morning 'til 4 in the morning. He goes to
day care, then I go to school for 4-1/2 hours and work for 4-1/2 hours,
that's 4:30, quarter to 5, I go straight to pick him up from day care, get
home, do dinner, eat, clean up from dinner and give him a bath and get him
ready for tomorrow, then try to get him to go to sleep. And it's 11 or
midnight, and then I've got to do my homework for the next day."
Woods: "It's very stressful. I have the kids with me to make sure they're
doing homework and if they don't have any work, I have to be inventive to
make sure their academic skills will stay up to par where they can be
successful in life and they won't have to go through this lovely cycle I'm
going through it's a full plate already."
Times: Would you want to be married if the opportunity came along?
Welch: "Given the type of men that we're talking about there is this
recurrent theme of 'we don't want to count on them.' "
Woods: "I wouldn't see any reason for marriage right now. I need to have
(financial) security first, for my personal identity as well as to ensure
that my children know that they can be independent and have a good living
standard on their own without having a partner."
Hutchings: "I don't know if I'd want to get married again because of how
expensive it is to get a divorce. I would have had a savings account if I
hadn't had to spend so much money on getting a divorce."
Times: Wouldn't it be better to have two incomes instead of one?
Woods: "And then if the man loses his job, gets the pink slip? Then here we
are back again in the same situation. George Bush wants to promote this
lovely idea to have us get married. Well, if he wants to give me some of his
money to help support my family, I'd be glad to look into that (laughing). I
am an African-American female. My partner would be an African-American male.
There's a very low possibility for that to happen because of practices that
happened previously of welfare parents not being able to have men in their
homes and African-American males who are in prison due to injustice or
certain crimes or the three-strikes law and drugs all that has an issue in
Times: Is there a disincentive if you're on welfare to get married because
your income doubles and you could lose your eligibility for child-care
subsidies and other assistance?
Sabon: "I think one example of that is my girls' dad. He's never kept a
steady job. (The state) calculates your income and his income mine was
full-time receptionist, his was laborer, and it hurts you. I have two
children, 6 and 8. (Child care) is $300 a month for each kid; I have a $185
co-pay as a single person. With two incomes, we wouldn't qualify for the
state to pay for our child care. If it didn't work out if he walked out or
his job wasn't consistent then I still have to pay that."
Times: If it's not marriage, what other things do you need? In what ways
could the government be helpful?
Welch: "Sometimes, we have $20 and we need to pay the light bill and get
groceries, and they're talking about using money for this huge theoretical
goal we don't even know if it would work."
Times: You're saying help me with my light bill?
Welch: "Yeah. And child care and education and things like that."
Hutchings: "Create jobs that can support families."
Sabon: "Keep funding the programs drug and alcohol (treatment), anger
management, education. Help me get more skills for myself so I can hopefully
retire at a job where I feel comfortable and don't worry about getting laid
off. It's all on me. If I lose my job, I'm back on welfare again."
Woods: "Stop the clock ticking. For people who are abiding by DSHS laws,
stop putting pressure on us to get off (welfare). We want off, we've
probably been off I know I have and had to go back on. It's not like we
sit on our butts and get high or drink or watch soap operas or whatever
stereotypes they have put upon us, or lay on our backs and have children
continuously. Seems to me they put the fault on us, and I think that's very
wrong when we are trying as women to be independent, trying to better and
empower our children to let them see we want to educate ourselves and take
care of ourselves as well as our children."
Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company
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