Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): Putting Marriage on the Agenda: How Oklahoma Laid the Foundation for Its Marriage Initiative. How Did Oklahoma Leverage Funding to Implement the OMI?


Many marriage initiatives today are being funded through federal grants under the Healthy Marriage Initiative, but because the OMI pre-dated congressional approval for such funds, Oklahoma had to find its own resources, at least in the beginning. To plan and initiate activities, Oklahoma found small sources of funding from the private and public sector, but quickly determined that more substantial funds were needed to provide the staying power to grow the OMI and eventually roll out services statewide. Once broad support for the OMI was clear, significant state funding was pledged from surplus TANF money. Oklahomas DHS now allocates a budget for the OMI each year, based on the availability of TANF funds and the level of OMI activities. In recent years, the state also has sought and received federal funding to support specific program elements of the OMI.

A Small State Planning Contract Enabled the OMI to Get Started.  To support its initial planning and coordination activities, OMI planners approached several state agencies, such as DHS, which administered the states TANF program. DHS provided a small planning contract for the initiative. The State Health Departments commissioner and deputy commissioner also were approached. While they were supportive of the initiative because they felt it had important public health dimensions, the Health Department had no funds available to support OMI activities at the time.

OMI Supporters Also Sought Private Funds in the Early Years.  In July 1999 OMI supporters began seeking private funds for early coordination and activities. OMI planners established a fiduciary partner to accept cash and in-kind donations, and approached business leaders and foundations to help fund the OMI. These groups did express support and made some contributions. It soon became apparent, however, that a widespread, ongoing effort could not be planned, implemented, or sustained without more substantial and predictable funding. OMI leaders began to consider whether any such sources of funding were available. One opportunity stood out.

TANF Surplus Funds Gave the OMI the Resources Needed to Implement Services Statewide.  As in other states, dramatic declines in Oklahomas TANF caseload in the years following the 1996 welfare reforms had created a pool of surplus TANF funds. In 2000, DHS in Oklahoma had a $100 million surplus of combined state and federal TANF dollars. Federal law gave states wide latitude to use their surpluses for addressing TANFs overarching goals  including those relating to family formation. In Oklahoma these funds were controlled not by the state legislature, as they were in most states, but by a nine-member DHS governing board, the Commission for Human Services, whose members were appointed by the governor.(7)

In March 2000, Governor Keating asked the Commission to reserve 10 percent of the projected TANF surplus  a total of $10 million over several years  for strengthening marriage. The Commission agreed. This symbolic and dramatic action constituted a public endorsement of the OMIs importance and also provided a large pool of available funding the OMI could draw on to sustain its planning process and to support the various activities and programs the OMI eventually would take up. DHS now provides annual funding for OMI activities based on the availability of TANF monies and the level of OMI activities. More recently, state funding has been leveraged to obtain federal funds through the Healthy Marriage Initiative and other programs, to support OMI activities for particular target populations, such as adoptive parents and unwed expectant couples.

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