Marriage Does Not Solve All Problems - March 2002

Denver Women's Commission
Marriage Does Not Solve All Problems - March 2002

Prepared March 26, 2002
for Colorado Woman News
by Chaer Robert

Marriage Does Not Solve All Problems

A Colorado woman on TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) with two children gets a maximum of $4272. per year in her welfare checks. On average, married couples in Colorado earned over $40,000. per year. Therefore, should women on welfare marry?

Sally Smith (composite character), a mom on TANF, thought about marrying her daughter's father. But by the time the baby was born, dad was in prison. She had almost married her previous boyfriend, but he grew increasing violent toward her. She liked a neighbor, until she began to see the extent of his alcohol use. Another neighbor occasionally babysits her daughter, but he works only sporadically. She likes John, an even-tempered, hard-working guy who works in the warehouse with her brother. John is friendly to her, but he wants to link up with Betty, a single parent who has been a secretary at the warehouse for the last few years. What should Sally do? Her best bet for escaping poverty is getting education or training that will lead to employment. Ironically, increasing education and income is likely to increase the odds that she will marry.

What prompts this strange discussion? In 1996, welfare laws changed. Congress spelled out the four purposes of TANF:

  1. To provide assistance so that children can be cared for in their own or a relative's home.
  2. To end dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage.
  3. To reduce out-of-wedlock births
  4. To encourage formation and maintenance of two-parent families

Oddly enough, reducing poverty was not a stated goal of welfare. Many think it should be added as the Congress considers welfare reauthorization.

On March 25, a coalition, headed by Colorado Center for Law and Policy and the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry sponsored a panel discussion at the State Capitol on whether government should be promoting marriage. Rep. Betty Boyd was our host legislator. Stephanie Johnson, President of Washington State's Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition asked that the President's proposed redirection of $300 million of TANF funding into marriage promotion programs be directed instead to the immediate need for child care. Since education and training provides the surest path out of poverty, classes should count toward to the proposed 40 hours per week recipients will be required to work.

Kay Bengston of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Washington D.C. argued that marriage promotion should not replace anti-poverty programs. Her concrete suggestions for ways the government could stop working against two-parent families included:

  1. Allow child support paid by non-custodial parents of children receiving TANF to go directly to the child rather than being retained by the state. Parents are more likely to pay, knowing their money will go to their child, rather than to the government.
  2. Provide new funding for fatherhood initiatives that help disadvantage low-income fathers increase their education and work skills. Such funding should not be at the expense of aid to mothers on TANF.
  3. Prohibit recovery of birthing costs paid by Medicaid from low-income fathers. The debt-load can be crushing.
  4. Rethink lengthy prison sentences for drug users and small time drug sellers

Two Colorado TANF recipients then told their stories. Marion Williams is 72, raising three great-grandchildren, two with special needs. She receives $99. per month per child. She admits it was easier before her husband died 5 years ago. But she is busy raising the children, not looking for a new husband. The children's mother is drug-addicted; marriage is not the key to her being able to parent. Monica Tom, President of Warren Village Resident Council, wanted to live happily ever after with her husband. But the 13-year marriage grew increasingly violent, until he shot her. Now divorced for seven years, her priority is raising her four children, not looking for a marriage partner.

Your Congressional Representatives and Senators need to hear from you. To become involved in this issue, contact the Colorado Center for Law and Policy 303-573-5669 or visit their website: