Saturday, September 7, 2013

Task force report focuses on increasing marriage, reducing out-of-wedlock births

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — An emphasis on marriage and a decrease in out-of-wedlock births are two main recommendations from Gov. Sam Brownback's task force on reducing childhood poverty.

The task force report released Friday said a way to encourage healthy marriages would be to increase premarital education.

An incentive to do that would be to reduce the marriage license fee for those who complete eight hours of premarital education. The course must contain a component on domestic violence, the report said.

An application for a marriage license in Douglas County costs $85.50.

"There is no single answer to end childhood poverty in Kansas," said Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who served as chair of the task force. "Based on the evidence presented during our meetings, we believe these recommendations are an important start."

The report was criticized by Kansas Action for Children, which advocates for children and families.

"We also need to focus on creating innovative pathways out of poverty for our poorest children. These things seem to be missing from today's report," said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer for Kansas Action for Children.

In Kansas, the poverty rate for children has been increasing with nearly one in five children living in poverty. A family of four earning less than $23,050 is considered to be under the poverty level.

The governor's task force report said education, employment and marriage were the three key paths out of poverty and it downplayed the role of government-funded programs.

" … Government's ability to address poverty has historically been unsuccessful," the report said.

"Though government at the state and federal level continues to pour money into anti-poverty programs, poverty rates continue to grow, and out-of-wedlock childbirth has exploded.

"Government must be mindful of programs and policies that result in keeping individuals in poverty by dis-incentivizing full-time employment and marriage or incentivizing out-of-wedlock childbirths," the report added.

The report said increasing healthy marriages was important because In Kansas marriage decreases the likelihood of poverty by more than 80 percent.

The report also called for a public relations campaign to highlight the importance of marriage and fatherhood, and an increase in "healthy relationship education" in middle schools and high schools to help young people make better life choices and reduce out-of-wedlock births.

The report also recommended improving high school, college and technical school graduation rates through programs such as Jobs for America's Graduates and expanding statewide a mentoring program called Partners in Change that operates at Neosho County Community College.

The report also called for streamlining state work programs and touted work requirements for food stamps and welfare. Earlier this week, the Brownback administration announced that a federal waiver that allowed 20,000 unemployed Kansans to receive assistance in buying food will be allowed to expire at the end of the month.

Cotsoradis, with KAC, said the emphasis of the report on marriage and out-of-wedlock births seemed out of place.

She said children can thrive in stable home environments whether those are headed by two parents, a single parent or people who are unmarried.

"The issue is emotional and economic stability," she said.

Cotsoradis said the emphasis should be on helping to make sure that children who are born into poverty have the necessary supports so that they don't continue in poverty as an adult.

That means making sure they have access to nutrition, health care and education, she said.

She said the Legislature's recent action to cut in half the state's contribution to 529 college savings plans, which are meant to help the poor save for college, would seem to run counter to that goal.