ANNAPOLIS – The state of Maryland received a $25 million bonus Thursday from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the statewide reduction of out-of-wedlock birth rates without a corresponding increase in the abortion rate.
Wade F. Horn, U.S. assistant secretary for children and families, delivered the announcement and the check before a gathering of local, state and federal officials, as well as child and family advocates at the State House in Annapolis.
“It really is an extraordinary achievement,” Horn said.
Welfare reform legislation in 1996 allows for the awarding of bonuses to as many as five states and three territories that have the largest decreases in the ratio of out-of-wedlock births to total births.
The first bonuses were awarded in 1999 to five different states.
Only three states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia received the bonus this year.
“This type of award represents a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people,” said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, during the brief ceremony. “Our administration is very much geared to focusing on the child. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to do that.”
Officials credit three particular programs under the Maryland Department of Human Resources for helping curb the number of out-of-wedlock births in the state: The Best Friends Program, which encourages character building and abstinence for teenage girls, the Statutory Rape Program, designed to help young girls recognize and avoid older men who might prey on them, and the Fatherhood Initiative Program, which seeks to help teenage boys and young men make responsible decisions about parenthood.
All three programs aim to promote responsible choices among young people.
This is the second year Maryland has received a bonus from the federal government for the reduction of out-of-wedlock births, a fact state officials attribute to Maryland’s commitment to children and families.
Out-of-wedlock births declined by 447 in Maryland from 1999 to 2002, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
In 2002, there were 25,530 births to unmarried mothers, compared to 25,083 births in 1999.
These are the most recent national numbers available from the National Center for Health Statistics, which compiles birth data based on records submitted by the states.
“There’s a lot of pressure on our kids today and it’s our responsibility as adults to help them,” said Steele.
“These resources and these partnerships mean a lot and go a long way.”
While specific uses of the bonus money have yet to be determined, officials say the money will be used to further the goals of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program: to reduce out-of-wedlock births and provide support for individuals who are transitioning from welfare to work.
“It’s still very early to determine how this money will be used,” said Christopher McCabe, secretary for the Maryland Department of Human Resources. “But it will be used as an investment in strengthening families in Maryland.”
States will be required to spend the bonus money within two years, and the Maryland Department of Human Resources is responsible for making sure the money is used for the right purposes.
The effort to reduce out-of-wedlock births in the past has been a collaboration of various state agencies and non-profit organizations, said McCabe, including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families and the Maryland State Department of Education.
“The success we had is really multi-faceted,” said McCabe. “Maryland has a comprehensive approach. We want people to make responsible choices wherever they are.”
– 30 – CNS-9-30-04