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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.Mens Clarks Desert Boots Size 11 () Brown Rust Leather,Durango Brown Leather Slouch Cowboy Boots Mens Size 8 EE Style 15166 USA,Field&Stream Insulated Sherpa Lined Vintage Motorcycle Biker Brown Leather BootsFashion New Men's Trendy Sneaker Casual Flat Comfy Suede Ankle Boots Shoes,Wacoal Women's Sport Underwire - Choose SZ/Color,Hot Mens Sequin Metal Side Zipper Stylish Ankle Boots Board Shoes Party CasualGARMONT CROSS COUNTRY INSULATED SKI BOOTS MENS AU SZ 12 / 46.5,Brown Leather Tan Suede Cowboy Western Boots Mens Size 28 MEX Style 3119Mens sz 9 D M Abilene USA Made black leather cowboy western boots work riding,Swiss Gear Brown And Black Hiking Boots - Men's 7,Mens Leather Suede PU Fleece Army Combat Military Ankle Boots Black Brown Retro,Sandro Moscolini Black Full Grain Leather Split Toe Ankle Boot Shoe Mens 10.5 D,Military Men's Womens Punk Military Heel Creeper Work High Top Combat Boot Shoes,TEXAS STEER ENGINEER BOOTS STEEL TOES MEN'S SIZE 7-1/2 7.5 NICE COND.,Cat'S Paw Neoprene Mens Boots Size 9 Black Leather,Vintage HANOVER Mens GEORGE Monk Strap Ankle Boots Cognac Brown 9.5 D,New Dan Post Mens Dp2957 Cowboy, Western Boots,Fin & Feather Men's 11" Wellington, Brown, Size 13.0 ncZnDOC MARTENS 7733 AIRWAIR SOLES STEEL TOE SAFETY SHOE BOOT SLIP RESISTANT SIZE 7,LARRY MAHAN VINTAGE MENS 10.5 D ROUND TOE BROWN LEATHER WESTERN COWBOY BOOTS,High Noon Black Leather Side Zip Western Ankle Dress Boots Men's Size 7.5 M,Brown Leather Cowboy Boots Mens Size 9 D Style 3058 USA,LL Bean Mens Snow Sneakers Gray Black Yellow Sz 14 Widenew KODIAK Men's RUSH waterproof Winter work Boots Shoes,FUNTASMA Jazz-06 3 1/2" Block Heel Costume Cosplay Halloween Platform Oxford,Dr. Martens Air Cushion Sole Black Leather Ankle Boots Mens Size 5, Womens 6,Military Winter Men's NEW Fashionable Retro Combat Boots Short Black Shoes Size,Texas Brand Burgundy Black Leather Cowboy Boots Mens Size 11 D Style 509613 USA,Texas Men's 13 D Black Harness Style Motorcycle Boots,Tecnica Tecni-Dri Mid Hiking Trail Boots Men's 9M
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