Is responsible fatherhood the key to lifting poor families out of poverty? Monica Potts of The American Prospect explores
Last year, Obama addressed a group of community leaders, fathers, and children from schools near D.C. in a speech meant to kick off a national conversation on fatherhood. He noted that his accomplishments were due to the efforts of his mother and grandparents but added, "Despite all their extraordinary love and attention that doesn't mean I didn't feel my father's absence. That's something that leaves a hole in a child's heart that a government can't fill."
Indeed, Obama has never suggested it should, but he has acknowledged the government can encourage fathers to get more involved. This marks a slight departure from his predecessor. For George W. Bush and his fellow conservatives, involved fathers were important because nuclear families were important. Advocates for anti-poverty programs grew frustrated with Bush because both his rhetoric and his policies emphasized personal and familial responsibility, as if all poor families lacked were moral values. He allocated federal money to programs that promoted marriage, but the bill authorizing the funds did not use language that restricted their use for low-income families exclusively; they were open to anyone.
Now, under Obama, fatherhood programs and marriage initiatives are poised to get more funding. His 2011 budget allocates money under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also known as welfare-to-work, for a new initiative intended to help parents with barriers to self-sufficiency. A parallel Obama effort, the "conversation on fatherhood," run by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, targets Americans of all income levels but doesn't administer grant money.
By reorienting the intent of the fatherhood programs, Obama reinforces the idea that poorer families might benefit from them. In his budget, Obama also increases funding for other programs designed to help poor families, a step many liberals would applaud. But his funding for fatherhood and family programs concedes that his goal isn't just making poverty less devastating by providing steady child care, better health-care coverage, and more work-training options for low-income men and women. It emphatically states that the broad effort of reducing poverty is furthered by putting fathers back in low-income homes and helping couples stay married.
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