Topeka In May 2008, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and David Blankenhorn wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal calling for an end to what they described as the “marriage penalty” for people receiving welfare.
Brownback and Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values, argued that poor people receiving public assistance were encouraged to stay unmarried because their combined incomes would make them ineligible for those benefits.
The research for the piece was done by the Institute for American Values and was part of a series titled “The Future of the Black Family.”
Brownback and Blankenhorn proposed allowing newly married couples to be allowed to receive all their benefits for the first three years of marriage.
“This adjustment should give newly married couples a sufficient grace period to realize the economic benefits of marriage — and save money to stabilize their financial situation — before government benefits cease,” they wrote.
Brownback and Blankenhorn then asked, “What’s the next step? We need to test this idea.”
If Brownback has his way, Kansas will be the place to test this idea.
Brownback, a Republican, will be sworn in as governor next week.
On Monday, Brownback reiterated his arguments to remove what he called disincentives to marriage.
“Studies show a healthy, loving family unit benefits not only the parents, but, more importantly, the children,” he said. “We will work to remove disincentives to marriage so more couples can marry without the fear of losing crucial state support during difficult financial times.”
Brownback spoke about the issue as he introduced the leaders of his health services team that will try to enact this effort. They are Robert Siedlecki, whom Brownback picked to be secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, and Dr. Robert Moser, tabbed as secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
SRS provides financial support to poor Kansans with cash assistance, child care help and food aid. In the last fiscal year, an average of 277,000 Kansans received food stamps each month, 37,000 received temporary assistance during an average month, and 20,300 received child care assistance.
SRS has been hit hard by state budget cuts over the past couple of years as tax revenues tanked during the recession. The agency hasn’t worked on the issue proposed by Brownback, according to SRS spokesman Steve Mock.
“I don’t know if we have identified it as a policy issue, but I’m sure we will be doing some work on it if it’s a priority for the new administration,” he said.
When asked to quantify the problem, Brownback said he didn’t know how many people were forgoing marriage to maintain welfare benefits. And, he said, he didn’t know how much it would cost taxpayers to continue those benefits.
Kansas Action for Children, which advocates on behalf of children and low-income families, said it wasn’t aware that the problem was a big deal.
In his op-ed piece, Brownback said the problem may be greater than many think. “Knowledge of the marriage penalty in poor neighborhoods is typically spread word of mouth,” he wrote. “This informal learning might actually increase the antimarriage impact of the penalty, by convincing nearly all poor couples that they will lose income if they marry, even though some (due to the complexity of regulations) will not.”