OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The impact divorce has on state government spending in Oklahoma, including welfare programs, is not something that can be improved with new policies or programs, the director of a conservative research group examining marriage and religion said Thursday.
While Patrick Fagan, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Marriage and Religion Research Institute, said the key to keeping families together is chastity, marriage and Christian worship, he told a group of lawmakers those things cannot be legislated.
“I don’t think policy works in any of these areas,” Fagan said at the hearing put on by the Human Services committee.
Instead, he said, politicians and other leaders should find a way to talk about the difficult and sensitive issues that gets people thinking but doesn’t place blame, he said.
The hearing brought together Fagan and other officials from some of the state’s social programs to examine how divorce and what Republican lawmakers called “the breakdown of the family” is costing government more money.
“If you talk to teachers, if you talk to DHS (Department of Human Services), if you talk to the Office of Juvenile Affairs, if you talk to legislators, you’ll see that this is a major issue for government,” said Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “Yet we continue to ignore it. There was war on poverty declared. The problem is that poverty was not the problem. Poverty is a symptom of other kinds of problems. … We’re declaring war on the wrong thing.”
Jim Struby, director of Adult and Family Services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said the best thing his office can do is promote healthy relationships and make sure families don’t crash under the weight of poverty.
He said about 3,200 adults and 15,000 children in Oklahoma received assistance each month from July 2012 to March 2013 under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federally funded program. An average of 617,000 people each month during the same period received food benefits from the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program. The average SNAP benefit is $128.36 for one person for one month. That translates to about $4.26 per day.
Asked if people ever abuse the program benefits, Struby said it does happen on occasion, but it is a very small percentage.
Rep. Sally Kern, a former teacher, said she was always amazed by students who came from broken homes and poverty, some of whom she called “survivors.” Those students, Kern said, didn’t want to live the same life they came from, but they didn’t know how to improve anything.