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Many discussions about safety-net programs tend to focus on financial cliffs—how the impact of getting a raise or working additional hours may make participants ineligible for the very benefits they need to move into economic stability. Marriage is rarely part of this discussion, even though numerous studies show marriage is an important tool for moving families out of poverty.1 That marriage is often absent from these discussions is especially ironic, since the promotion of family stability—by encouraging marriage and discouraging nonmarital births—was among the chief policy rationales for welfare reform in 1996.
After reviewing research stressing the importance of eliminating marriage penalties, we developed and successfully advocated for legislation that would create a “honeymoon” period for newly-married couples receiving assistance through Minnesota’s version of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The legislation (HF 1453/SF 1165) received strong bipartisan support and was enacted by a Republican Legislature and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton in 2017. In our view, it represents the bi-partisan possibilities of enacting legislation based on the consensus that marriage is a vital tool for reducing poverty and fostering child well-being.
Crafting a Policy
Minnesota’s version of TANF is the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), which provides work support and cash assistance for children and their parents, who are often low wage workers between jobs. There has been no increase in the amount of the cash benefit to participants in over 30 years. Both of our organizations were involved in advocating for an increase.
As we talked with people of faith across our state, especially religious leaders, we kept hearing about couples who wanted to be married but couldn’t afford to make this decision because adding another adult to the family’s income would put them over the poverty threshold used to determine eligibility.2 The concerns were often strongest for couples expecting a baby who wished to be married before birth of their child. Unfortunately, marriage would result in a loss of benefits at the exact time the new mother would be unable to work. We sought to address this marriage disincentive.
Framing the Legislation
In our experience, all elected officials want to help families and individuals in poverty. They desire all our citizens to be economically stable and prosperous, but they often have different ideas about how to make that happen. Our goal was to frame our bill in a way that showed a commitment to helping children live in stable, secure homes that lawmakers from both parties could champion.
To that end, we drafted a bill to create an 18-month window after marriage in which a new spouse’s income would not count when determining eligibility—a “honeymoon” period. This income disregard was modeled on an existing statute that addressed child support for children on MFIP. Due to constitutional concerns related to marriage incentive programs, we consciously chose to structure the bill in a way that would allow couples to choose to marry rather than reward those who married.
Making the Pitch
In seeking bill sponsors (and later other supporters), we spoke about the benefits of marriage to children and the challenges to couples that wanted to marry but knew the very real financial impact this would have on their families. We shared that the federal TANF Program, which is used to fund MFIP, specifically lists two marriage-related goals: to promote marriage and to reduce the number of children born out of wedlock.
We provided data from a joint American Enterprise Institute/Los Angeles Times study3 in which people in poverty were asked: “How often do you think unmarried adults chose not to get married to avoid losing welfare benefits?” Twenty-four percent of participants answered, “almost always,” and an additional 23% answered, “often.”
We also gave legislators highlighted copies of a 2009 study of the federal TANF program that showed participation in the TANF program had a negative effect on the probability of marriage, an effect that disappeared once participants moved off the program.4
In building strong bipartisan support for the legislation, we addressed some concerns along the way. For example, we made it clear that we were not judging single parents but instead creating a viable option for couples who wanted to be married. We also clarified that nothing in the bill would trap a parent in a relationship that was dangerous for the parent or children.
Our House author identified a concern we hadn’t anticipated—should the state allow continued participation in the MFIP program if a participant marries a middle or upper-class individual? We addressed this by amending the bill to include a cap on the income disregard, set at 275% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, the standard used to determine whether pregnant women and children are eligible for Medicaid.
In both chambers, the bill passed unanimously and was included in an omnibus bill signed by our Governor. Ultimately, the bill had to be amended to provide an income disregard for 12 months instead of the original 18. This change was unfortunate given that, ideally, this honeymoon period would last two or three years. Despite this amendment, the new law will likely make a significant impact by removing an obstacle to marriage for low-income households in our state.Womens Nike Air Max Deluxe AQ1272-400 Midnight Navy Brand New Size 9.5,[asics] GEL-KAYANO 24 LITE-SHOW-W Women's Running Shoes US 5.5 - 9.5 T8A9N.0101CONVERSE ALL STAR S COLORS HI Pink Japan Exclusive,Nike Dunk Hi LX Max Orange/Electrolime-Ivory Python 881233-800 Wmn Sz 7.5,NIKE WOMEN'S AIR MAX 95 BARELY ROSE/HOT PUNCH 307960-603 Size 6.5 No-Box-TopNike Air Max 2015 Running Women's Shoes Size 6Nike Womens Air Max 2017 Running Trainers 849560 Sneakers Shoes 146,1803 New Balance Fresh Foam Lazr Women's Training Running Shoes WLAZRMT,Saucony Men's Peregrine 6 Trail Running Shoe - Choose SZ/ColorMan/Woman New Balance Women's Wl696bh quality Year-end sale Clearance sale,New Balance Women's Shoes U396 BP Size 6.5 us,NIKE Womens Nike Free Tr Flyknit 3 942887-001 BLACK Womens Size 11L'Artiste by Spring Step Women's Pricilla Slingback Lime Leather,Nike Womens Air Max 95 Winter Running Trainers 880303 001 Sneakers Shoes,Gentleman/Lady Nike Women's Juvenate SE selling price Reliable performance A balance between toughness and hardness,1709 adidas Originals NMD-R1 Women's Sneakers Sports Shoes BY9647,ASICS Women's GEL-Quest Flyte Foam Training Shoe Soft Sky/White Fitness Shoes,2018 WMNS Nike Air Jordan 13 XIII Retro SZ 10 Phantom Moon Particle AQ1757-004,HOGAN REBEL WOMEN'S SHOES HIGH TOP SUEDE TRAINERS SNEAKERS R141 LATERALE PAI A2D,Nike Air Max 1 Neon Womens 319986-107 White Grey Volt Running Shoes Size 5.5,Hush Puppies Women's Dasher Mardie Sneaker Ivory Full Grain Leather SneakersTrotters Women's Monte Ankle Boot Dark Brown Smooth Leather Ankle BootsNIKE WMNS EPIC REACT FLYKNIT AQ0070-101 WHITE RACER BLUE PINK BLAST,New Balance Women's Wl574urb - Choose SZ/Color,NIKE W AIR MAX ZERO LOTC QS (Tokyo) size 11 WomansNike Sportswear Womens Free Inneva Woven 833803-001 10 US 42 EURNike Zoom Fearless Flyknit Womens 850426-102 White Pink Training Shoes Size 9.5,NIKE WMNS SF AIR FORCE 1 SE PRM "PORT WINE" Size 11 AJ0963 600 Port WineNike Air Jordan 14 Retro BG Desert Sand Kid Women Basketball Shoes 487524-021Nike Air Max Fury Shoes Violet dust AA5740-500 Women's 7.5 New,
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