Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - President Bush's proposal to fund voluntary programs that encourage and support marriage for welfare recipients is receiving the endorsement of two prominent pro-family groups.
"In every society in the world, marriage is what makes fatherhood more than a biological event," said Matt Daniels, executive director of the Alliance for Marriage.
"[But] for decades, the welfare system in the United States has penalized the poor and the working poor for making the socially responsible decision of raising children in the context of marriage," he added.
Daniels explains that, under current law, low-income families are often kicked out of public housing or lose financial assistance if a woman chooses to marry the father of her children.
Charles Ballard, founder of the The Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization (IRFFR), says his group's research has shown the powerful impact of marriage on inner-city couples and their children.
"When a man is in a loving, compassionate marriage, and the woman and children, they are in better health. They live longer. They are better educated. They have more finances they can use, and they usually are home owners," Ballard claimed.
Andre' Boulware spent five years in prison after growing up without his father.
"I had no identity to look to," Boulware says of his childhood, "and I had nobody to look up to."
Despite his circumstances, he began working and seeking to regain custody of his son after his release and referral to IRFFR. Over a period of months, he secured a home, a better job and, eventually, custody of his son.
Boulware also gained something else from his newfound drive to be a responsible father, the love of his new wife Charmaine.
"I was hurt too many times by men, that's why it took me so long to say yes to this man," Charmaine Boulware said.
The future Mrs. Boulware was a single parent living in taxpayer-funded housing and trying to provide a stable home for her two children when the two met. They married in December 2000, and he has since adopted her two sons and, together with his son and a fourth child the two recently had, they are now building their home together.
"I got my self-esteem back, my determination, my ambition, but most importantly, I got my dreams back," Andre' Boulware said, crediting Ballard and IRFFR for teaching him the importance of family and of being responsible for his actions.
Thomas Fulford is another IRFFR participant who is happily married, and seeing the benefits of a strong marriage affecting his standing with an adult daughter from a previous relationship.
"She said, 'Daddy, you seem to be happy.' She said, 'Your marriage seems to be turning around.' She said, 'You know I'm going to think about getting married now," Fulford said, recounting a recent visit with his daughter.
"I didn't realize how our children were watching us," he added.
Fulford says being married gives him a sense of responsibility that he never had in casual relationships because, " I could do this at any time: walk away." He says meeting that sense of responsibility head on has been rewarded by the love and support of his wife.
Ballard dismisses those who say his group is trying to force their morality on others.
"I walk the streets of America, knocking on doors, talking to women on welfare," he said, "and I have yet to find one woman on welfare who would say, 'I don't want a loving, compassionate man to marry.'"
Daniels says while many of the groups supporting marriage are faith-based, that should not disqualify them from receiving taxpayer funding.
"Marriage is a social good, it has a public benefit," he explained. "You don't need to participate in a particular faith system to understand and even be the beneficiary of more intact families in urban America."
Daniels adds that men like Fulford and Boulware not only serve their own families as role models, but also other fatherless children in their communities.
"More kids with [role] models, like some of these men here, are less kids who are going to go out and do drugs and join gangs," he said. "What is the gang? The gang is a surrogate family in communities where the family's gone."
The president's proposal would channel a percentage of existing welfare funds to community-based groups, such as IRFFR, to help welfare recipients develop and maintain healthy marriages. Participation in the programs would be entirely voluntary.
E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.
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