2005 Letter to Senators about TANF Reauthorization

December 13, 2005

Dear [Senator],

Unmarried Equality opposes the inclusion of funding
for marriage promotion programs in pending legislation to reauthorize
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). President Bush is
proposing to divert $1 billion over the next five years away from
proven anti-poverty measures in order to spend our money on social
engineering efforts such as pre-marital counseling and public education
campaigns on the importance of marriage. This is bad public policy for
four reasons:

  • First, marriage does not necessarily lead to escaping poverty.
    While some studies correlate marriage with lower poverty rates, no
    causation is understood. Realistically, it is much more likely that
    having a well-paid job increases one’s chances of getting married than
    that marrying increases one’s chances of getting a well-paid job.
  • Second, there is no proven link between marrying and raising
    healthy children. While children do benefit from having multiple
    attentive, communicative adults in their lives, there is little
    reliable evidence that marriage creates this tableau more effectively
    than other family forms. Statistically speaking, if every poor child in
    America were living with both biological parents, two-thirds of them
    would still be living below the poverty line.
  • Third, marriage promotion programs have never been rigorously
    analyzed; most were designed for white, middle class, committed couples
    and there is no evidence that they can be made relevant and effective
    for disadvantaged populations struggling to overcome poverty and
    related hardships.
  • Fourth, most Americans oppose government’s involvement in personal
    decisions regarding marriage and oppose the use of scarce public
    dollars to promote it.

Good public policy should help all families succeed, instead of
trying to turn back the clock on social progress. Marriage ought to be
a genuine choice, not one that stems from economic necessity or
government coercion. Marriage is only one of many successful family

Today 94 million American adults are unmarried, including 11 million
who live with unmarried partners. Furthermore, 43% of different-sex
unmarried partner households include children (compared to 46% of
married couples); put another way, 28% of children in the U.S. live in
unmarried families. Three-quarters of Americans today believe that a
family is a group of people who love and care for each other, not just
those who are bound by blood and marriage.

TANF reauthorization, currently the subject of House / Senate
reconciliation, not only promotes marriage as an anti-poverty measure
at the expense of proven interventions, it imposes unnecessary
obstacles in the paths of low-income people, both married and
unmarried. It mandates that parents spend additional hours working
while simultaneously limiting their access to resources such as
subsidized child care. It fails to remedy a variety of legislative and
regulatory pitfalls that make it harder for low-income married couples
to succeed. It withholds funds from programs that would improve the
employment, educational, and health outcomes for low-income families
and children. While the Senate’s version of the legislation makes
marriage promotion programs voluntary and suggests that they include
advice by experts on preventing domestic violence, such acknowledgement
of reality does not justify taking a billion dollars away from jobs,
child care, education, housing and health care.

Unmarried Equality strongly opposes the use of
federal anti-poverty dollars to promote or encourage marriage, and it
is clear that most Americans agree with us. Polls demonstrate that most
Americans are against government’s involvement in personal decisions
regarding marriage and oppose the use of scarce public dollars to
promote it among the poor. According to the PEW Forum on Religion &
Public Life opinion poll, nearly eight in ten Americans (79%) want the
government to stay out of this private decision. Even among those with
a high level of religious commitment, two-thirds (66%) do not wish to
see the government involved in marriage promotion. Real anti-poverty
measures must to do more than demonize and penalize single-parent

We urge Congress to zero-out funding for marriage promotion and
restore $1 billion over five years to those elements of TANF that help
America’s families—of all shapes and sizes—to live without poverty.


Lisa-Nicolle Grist
Executive Director