The Hidden Dangers of Marriage Promotion
Domestic Violence, Budget Reconciliation, and Welfare Reauthorization
Produced by Low-Income Families’ Empowerment by Education (LIFETIME)
For more information, please visit www.geds-to-phds.org
Welfare policy changes should not be made in the federal budget reconciliation process, but
only after a full and public debate over the direction of the next phase of welfare reform focusing on how to help families move out of poverty. We encourage our senators and representatives to
proceed in regular order to bring a welfare reauthorization bill to the floor. Given that the
value of the block grant dropped over the last eight years, state budgets are hurting and this hurts children and their families. Maintain block grant funding, particularly without the proposal to increase work requirements that will cost the states $11 billion to implement.
Domestic violence is the major reason low-income mothers end up in the welfare system. Studies show that the majority of single mothers in the welfare system have experienced domestic violence. Nationally, up to two thirds of mothers on welfare have suffered domestic violence at some time in their adult lives, and between 15% and 20% are current victims of serious domestic iviolence. In California the numbers are alarming: a recent study of welfare mothers in two counties, the California Institute for Mental Health found that 83% had experienced domestic
violence at some point in their lives. In the two years that the study took place, two-thirds of the
women were battered.
Domestic violence prevents low-income mothers from getting and keeping jobs. Domestic
violence doesn’t stay at home: numerous studies find that violence is frequently exacerbated when mothers seek education, training, or work. Batterers often sabotage mothers’ efforts to work or go
to school by making threats, stalking her at work and at school, inflicting injuries before tests or interviews, preventing her from sleeping or studying, and/or refusing to provide promised childcare. In a 1999 study of Wisconsin’s welfare mother, the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future found 63%
were fired or forced to quit their jobs due to domestic violence. A 1999 study of Colorado
welfare mothers by the Center for Policy Research found that 44% were prevented from working
by abusive ex-partners.
Marriage promotion can be dangerous, even deadly for battered women with children in the welfare system. Under H.R. 240, the House bill for TANF reauthorization, there is no language to prevent mothers on welfare from being forced to attend marriage and relationship classes, or be sanctioned and lose their benefits if they don’t. The risk is real that battered women in the welfare
system will be coerced in to staying with or marrying their abusers. Moreover, while marriage promotion programs are largely unproven, we do know that studies of anger management, conflict resolution, communications skills and/or couples counseling with batterers show no benefit; some studies show additional harm. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association advises against couples counseling when there is abuse.
H.R. 240 perpetuates the conditions that lead to domestic violence. Economic control – and
limiting women’s ability to support themselves – are critical aspects of abusive relationships. H.R.
240 will exacerbate these conditions, by funding programs that “improve fathers’ ability to
effectively manage family business affairs (through) education, counseling, and mentoring in . . . household management, budgeting, banking, handling of financial transactions, time management, and home maintenance.” However, the bill does nothing to help mothers learn money management
skills. Moreover, H.R. 240 encourages states to create programs to “support fathers to take full
advantage of education (and) job training . . . and secure career advancement.” By contrast, under
welfare reform mothers are being forced to quit school to take low-wage jobs, or be sanctioned if they don’t. To promote safe and stable families, Congress should invest in education and training opportunities for mothers and fathers.
The most effective way to promote safe and stable families is to support family economic security. Even Wade Horn, the head of the Administration on Children and Families, was right when he stated that “marriage is not an anti-poverty strategy.” And he’s right: of the more than
130,000 TANF families in California who reached their five-year lifetime limit on welfare since 2003, more than 55% were in two-parent families. Clearly, marriage wasn’t enough to get their
families off welfare, let alone out of poverty. But low-wage work is not the answer either - up to 90% of these families were working and playing by the rules. The truth is that H.R. 240 ignores the underlying causes of poverty for low-income families, particularly the poverty of women and children - lack of job training and education, low-wage work, lack of childcare, and domestic violence.
H.R. 240 and marriage promotion mandates government intrusion into the most personal of decisions. Marriage promotion is a threat not just to poor women, but to all citizens who believe that liberty entails making fundamental personal decisions without governmental interference. A survey conducted for the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that a solid 64 percent of those surveyed reject proposals to provide financial bonuses to mothers on welfare who marry the father of their children, and over 70% believe pushing people to get married is the wrong priority for iiCongress.
Protecting battered women and their children is as important as promoting marriage. Under TANF, the Family Violence Option gave states the option of providing protections to victims of domestic violence, including waivers from welfare program requirements that could endanger them or their children. However, Congress has never provided funding for domestic
violence counseling and services for battered women in the welfare system, while spending billions to promote marriage and fatherhood. Consequently, battered women and their children
are being further abused by the welfare system. For example, in California less than one-fifth of one percent of mothers on welfare were given domestic violence waivers in 2003 - only 780 out of a caseload of more than 400,000 mothers. To protect battered women and their children, Congress
must make family violence programs and services mandatory under TANF reauthorization, and provide funding for victim counseling and services for battered women and their children in the welfare system. For more information about LIFETIME and our work on welfare reauthorization, please visit www.geds-to-phds.org, LIFETIME Low-Income Families’ or call our office at 510-452-5192. Empowerment through Education
i See Jody Raphael & Richard M. Tolman, Taylor Inst. and the Univ. of Mich. Research Dev. Ctr. on Poverty, Risk and Mental Health, Trapped by Poverty, Trapped by Abuse: New Evidence Documenting the Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Welfare, 12 (1997). ii Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. “Memorandum to Advocates for Low-Income Families.”