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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.New in Box - $278 JOHN VARVATOS Madison Stud Keeper Sandstone Loafers Size 9.5Mens Oxford Ankle High Top cheslea cuban heel Boots Leather shoes Dress formal 8,Genuine Grip Footwear Men's Slip-Resistant Oxford Black Leather,Man/Woman Florsheim Work Men's FS2005 Modern and elegant fashion Let our products go to the world Seasonal hot sale,Fashion Men British Slip On British Tassel Loafers Flats Casual Round Toe Shoes,MBT Kasiba Black Leather Comfort Oxford Shoes Size 13 13.5,Skechers 64504 USA Mens Glides Razan Slip-On Loafer- Choose SZ/Color.,Igi&Co 87451 EB mens shoes navy nubuck sneakers casual comfort Made in Italy,NIB $200 Converse X MISSONI CTAS 70 HI Forest Night/Auburn/Bi 153105C US Mens 10,Skechers Elent Velago Mens Casual Smooth Leather Shoes Comfort Sneakers Black,men's shoes BASE LONDON 12 () elegant blue shiny leather BZ419-Gmen's shoes L4K3 11 () sneakers white green suede textile BZ444-D,Nike Air Huarache Men's Running Shoes Wolf Grey/Sunset Pulse 318429-053,mens leather floral printed round toe slip on loafers nightclub dress shoes 13Roman Mens Shoes Slip On Pumps Real Genuine Leather Buttton Nightclub Sandals szTODS Mens Dress Shoes Black Suede Leather Italian High Top Chukka Boot Size 8.5M,CALLAGHAN Marea NOBUK SOFT AZUL/SIRAZ moccasins sale 80804ECCO Men's New Jersey Slip On ,Black,42 EU US Men's 8-8.5 M,adidas CC Rocket Boost M Men's Shoes Size,Skechers Men's Calculous Slip On COMFORT SHOES,Skechers Men's Telfin Composite Toe EH SR Charcoal/Red Work Shoe 77132/CCRD,Men Genuine Leather Embroidery Floral Sneakers Athletic Shoes Korean Hip Hop New,Skechers Men's Pittstor Work Shoe - Choose SZ/Color,Dr Martens For John Fluevog Brown Leather Brogue Oxford Shoes Size US13,adidas Originals Men's Gazelle J Sneaker - Choose SZ/Color,Chic Mens Emboridery 3D Printing Floral Sneakers Genuine Leather Flat Heel ShoesCONVERSE Men's Shoes 983800 Beige 9 1/2,KEEN MENS RIALTO SLIP ON DARK EARTH SIZE 11.5,Clarks Originals Desert Boot Men's Leather Two-Eye Chukka Shoes Camel 26118517,Crocs Men's Walu Canvas Slip-On Loafer - Choose SZ/Color,
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