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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.Hot Womens Clear Patent Leather Over The Knee High Boots High Heels Casual Shoes,Vibram Furoshiki Mid Boot Russian Felt Sneaker, Grey/Red Wine, EU:46-47/UK,Banana Republic Vivienne Tall Boot, Espresso SIZE 6 M,Women Chunky Mid Heel Lady Leather Knee High Boots Pointy Toe Shoes Colorful,Man's/Woman's ZUCCa Shoes 179471 Black L High security Elegant style Exquisite processingAquatalia By Marvin K Womens Vera Gomma Heel Bootie - Black US Size 9 NWOBJ/Slides Ruffled Sand Suede Women's Boots Sz 9.5 M 4800,Womens Open Toe Gladiator Over Knee High Boots Stilettos Sandals Satin Shoes Hot,Steve Madden Womens Sweaterr Heeled Winter Boot Shoe,Alaia High Boots, Grey Brownish Color, Distressed Leather, Size 11.Steve Madden Womens laurie Closed Toe Mid-Calf Fashion, Black Leather, Size 7.5,Martino New Penelope Womens Waterproof Pebbled Leather Ankle Boots (Navy) 7 B(M),Lucky Brand Ritten Whiskey Leather Knee High Wide Calf Riding Western Boots,womens autumn fashion over knee stiletto pull on round toe high heel boots shoesLARTISTE BELGARD-BR - BELGARD Size: - Color:,Man/Woman Tory Burch Riding Boots 6.5M Modern and elegant fashion Good market a wide variety of goods,BC Footwear Women's Acre Ankle Boot, Black, 6 M US,SOFFT Fayda Black Ankle Boots Booties 9 $140 NEW NIB,Paul Green Buckle Strap Ankle Boot Moto Leather Zip Womens Boots uk6.5 us9Bella Vita Women's Emerson Chelsea BootieCASLON Mason Leather Tall Knee High Boots Stacked Heels SZ 8.5 NEW,Men's/Women's FLAMINGO-1018HG the most convenient New products in 2018 Cheap order,Stuart Weitzman Pullon Ankle Bootie Boot, Cola Suede, Size 9,Muck Boots Company Women's ARCTIC SPORT II MID, ACAI PURPLE, Neoprene Rubber,Nine West Women's Leapafaith Fabric Dress Pump - Choose SZ/colorGentlemen/Ladies Report Women's Dilena Fashion Boot Not so expensive Stylish and fun Very practical,Frye Boots Women’s Kendall Zip Short Dark Burgundy Shoes Sz. 7 B,Harley Davidson Women's Aimee Boots by Wolverine,FitFlop Women's Superskate Loafer Flat - Choose SZ/color,New! Dolce Vita Cliff Western Tall Boot Gray Taupe Suede Size 9.5 OTK MSRP $280,
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