The Alternatives to Marriage Project reports:
"In April, the National Fatherhood Leadership Group offered a one-hour conference call in which two Special Assistants to the President described the proposal and answered pre-selected audience questions. The entire transcript is online. AtMP was among nearly 1,500 participants, listening specifically for clues to whether this administration is wedded to marriage promotion.
The highlight was Question 3 by Phil: Will the current administration be supportive of programs that include couple relationship strengthening, regardless of the marital status of the parents?
[Answer by] Martha Coven: Sure, and Joshua may want to add something here. I think we're open to anything. Whatever the most effective ways are to reach people is what we want, and I think we all know that, and Joshua will probably say this more eloquently than I can. We take parents as prospective parents or folks who shouldn't be parents right away as they are in the various points in their relationships and relationship with each other and with their children. And, I don't think we want to take any point where anyone is currently and take that off the table.
[Answer by] Joshua Dubois: I think that's exactly right. It's very well said, Martha." [it is??]
Another highlight was their explanation that the grant application will not list eligible activities, only broad objectives and strategies. There will not be set-asides for specific strategies (e.g., marriage promotion vs. fatherhood supports). Dubois, who is also Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships referred to the influence of his Task Force on Fatherhood and Healthy Families. Among that task force's recommendations was to "Ensure that programming for couples' employment training, job placement, and financial literacy are allowable activities under federally funded fatherhood, healthy relationship, and healthy marriage grants." (Task Force members vehemently disagreed about whether unmarried couples should be allowed to receive services.)"
In my view, this repackaging of intimate interventions does not end what's wrong with substituting family engineering for economic resources for low-income families.
We have struggled for decades to get government out of our bedrooms and to stop governmental interference in reproductive decisions. Do we really want to invite government into our intimate relationships?
As with pregnancy termination, services should be available and accessible to those who seek them. Counseling for partners should be available through health programs. Preparation for parenting should be available as part of elementary-secondary schooling. Parenting classes should be available for adults who are parents. Supports should be offered to partners who have to flee relationships due to intimate violence.
Educational and support services for parents and prospective parents should not target poor people, should not pathologize poverty. They should reach everyone in recognition that anyone might benefit from parenting support.
But the availability of such educational and support services should not authorize the government to act as a missionary for two-parent families, for marriage, or for fathers.
Some proponents of these sorts of programs argue that bringing fathers into families helps reduce poverty. Other proponents argue that the presence of married fathers in families is a good in itself, regardless of economic consequences. Either way, proponents want to uplift fathers even if at the expense of mothers.
Why should employment training, job placement, and financial literacy -- all mentioned by DuBois, above -- be linked to fathers or to couples? Shouldn't these efforts to improve economic circumstances be directed at individuals, especially individuals who are custodial parents? Why does the economic security of a mother have to be tied to her relationship to her child's father?
The big losers here are single mothers. Every increment of spending directed away from income support for single mother families and toward family formation programs to enhance fatherhood hurts the economic wellbeing of single mothers and their children.
We should embark on a more promising and more just course toward ending poverty. Some first steps down such a path include: wage reform to assure comparable worth; minimum wage reform to assure a living wage; unemployment insurance reform to take women's work patterns into account; education and training supports for low-wage workers and low-income family members; paid family leave; universal child care; income support to caregivers in economic recognition for the work of raising children and caring for family members.
For more on this, see my article "Women's Work, Mother's Poverty: Are Men's Wages the Best Cure for Women's Economic Insecurity," http://www.newpol.org/fromthearchives?nid=164