Federal government gives Md. $25 million for its decline in births to unwed mothers

Money is slated to assist needy families, children

October 01, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The federal government awarded Maryland $25 million yesterday for showing one of the nation's largest declines in births to unwed mothers.

Part of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act provided for bonus payments to states that reduce out-of-wedlock births without increasing the abortion rate.

Between 1999 and 2002, the most recent years for which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention birth statistics are available, the percentage of births to unwed mothers declined from 34.73 percent of all births to 34.62 percent, which amounts to 245 births out of about 146,000 for that period.

"A lot of people think when they look at social trends, they are going inevitably in one direction and cannot be reversed," said Dr. Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Maryland has done something about this, and it has done it in a positive way that is good for children and families."

New York, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., also received the $25 million bonuses this year. New York's reduction in unwed births was the largest at 5,930.

Christopher J. McCabe, Maryland's secretary of human resources, said the money will go into his department's budget to be spent on assistance to needy families and children, though no allocations have been made yet.

He said programs aimed at helping teenage girls make better choices and to avoid relationships with older men and fatherhood programs for young men have yielded results. The state also partners with nonprofit groups in the effort, he said.

The gains the government noted took place during Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration, but McCabe said the state government's efforts to reduce births to unwed mothers, particularly teenagers, have not changed.

"There is a consensus that children who are born to teenage mothers have a much tougher road to navigate," McCabe said. "That was a bipartisan consensus. Maryland has been very progressive and aggressive in trying to implement these [welfare reform] initiatives."

Maryland ranks in the middle nationally in its rate of births to unwed mothers, slightly higher than the national average, according to the CDC. The highest rates are in the District of Columbia, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi, and the lowest in Utah, Idaho and New Hampshire.

State Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, a Prince George's County Democrat, said the reduction of out-of-wedlock births in Maryland is particularly important in the African-American community.

Having married, loving parents is best for children, but too often among African-Americans, "the father is not married to the mother and is absent from the child's home," she said in a statement.

According to CDC data, the rate of births to unwed African-American women has declined sharply in the last decade. In 1990, the rate was 98.5 out-of-wedlock births per 1,000 women, but by 2002 it dropped to 66.2. The highest rate now belongs to Hispanic women at 87.9 out-of-wedlock births per 1,000 women.

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