Kansas to seek federal grant to promote marriage

? At the same time as Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration announced it would return a $31.5 million federal grant that would help implement the new health care law, it was applying for a $6.6 million federal grant to promote marriage.

When Brownback announced last week that the state would reject the health care grant, he cited a concern that the federal government would not be able to meet its financial commitments. He also said states should be preparing for fewer federal dollars, not more.

But those concerns did not prevent the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services from seeking $2.2 million a year for three years to pay for counseling that encourages unwed parents to marry, The Kansas City Star reports. State officials said the effort would help reduce child poverty by encouraging stable families.

Kansas Sen. Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the Brownback administration’s worldview is influencing which federal dollars the state pursues.

“When it benefits their philosophical ideology, everything is fine,” Hensley said. “Where it doesn’t fit in or goes against them — either from a policy or political standpoint — then the federal money isn’t OK.”

In statements issued to the Star, Brownback’s staff said the administration does not have a blanket policy regarding grants.

“Each potential grant and the federal requirements that come along with them are evaluated on a case-by-case basis with an increased watchful eye toward long-term mandates with short-term funding streams,” the statements said.

When asked if the state had rejected other grants, Brownback’s staff said it’s more accurate to say the state has declined to apply for some grants.

For example, the state isn’t pursuing any part of the $900 million that the federal government will disburse in the next five years to help communities reduce chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. A spokeswoman for the state health department said the grant wasn’t in line with state priorities and concerns were raised about strings attached to the money. She also said the state could use existing funds to implement some of the same programs.

Brownback has long been an advocate of promoting healthy marriages, contending that children raised by married couples are more likely to succeed in school, less likely to have behavior problems or live in poverty.

He promised a focus on family life when he appointed Rob Siedlecki, a former board member of the National Fatherhood Initiative, to lead the social services agency.

“The governor’s priority issue is reducing child poverty in Kansas. This is part of that approach,” said Angela De Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

If the state receives the grant, the federal government would pay to send unwed parents to six counseling sessions offered by either secular or faith-based counseling services chosen by the state. The parents would volunteer for the program and could choose the kind of counseling service they wanted.

If the parents completed the program and marry, the federal grant would pay the $85.50 cost of their marriage license.

The state estimates that more than 7,600 mothers or couples would begin counseling at $25 to $50 per session. Sixty percent of those are expected to finish the program and qualify for a free license.

Even if the couple doesn’t marry, the grant application said, the parents will learn how to maintain relationships and work together for the good of their child.