State Policies to Promote Marriage. I. Project Background and Goals


The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) authorized the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. PRWORA stated four broad goals for TANF:

  • Provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of their relatives;
  • End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
  • Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and
  • Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

As TANF is being reauthorized in 2002, an important topic of the ongoing discussions is whether the program is meeting the goals set out in PRWORA. To date, assessments of welfare reform have focused primarily on the work-based goals of TANF, documenting states’ efforts to increase work among TANF recipients, and the significant caseload declines that have followed. Less attention has been paid to marriage-related policies. This is due in part to the fact that states faced numerical targets with respect to work participation (i.e., the minimum work participation rates increased from 25 percent of families in 1996 to 50 percent in 2002). In addition, state efforts in the marriage policy area have not been systematically documented. Nonetheless, a number of states are engaged in a variety of activities that support marriage. Some of these focus specifically on TANF populations; others are more broad-based. To help inform the policy discussions, it is important to have a current picture of state-level policies to promote and support marriage.

The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) funded this project to learn about the status of policies to support and promote marriage at the state level. We inventoried policies that were enacted and proposed both prior to PRWORA and after the law’s passage. The project did not examine specific programs operating in localities. Nor did it evaluate policies or make recommendations. This document inventories marriage policies in the 50 states and District of Columbia in 10 broad areas. The matrices in Attachment A provide additional detail.