House Passes Bill to Fund Men's Custody Movement On

November 10th, 1999
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

On November 10th, the House passed by 328 to 93 The Fathers Count Act of 1999 (H.R. 3073), sponsored by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) that would provide $161 million in grants for programs that promote marriage and "responsible fatherhood." This dangerous legislation now goes to the Senate Finance Committee where it is expected to get a hearing in February. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) have a similar bill with S. 1364, the Responsible Fatherhood Act. Although backers of H.R. 3073 would have us think that the bill was meant to help poor non-custodial fathers, NOW and many other women's rights and domestic violence program advocacy organizations know better. The measure is especially tailored to send millions of taxpayer dollars to groups that undermine child support enforcement systems, provide biased child visitation/access programs and counsel non-custodial dads on how to avoid paying child support altogether by switching custody. NOW activists have monitored for years those groups and their extremist leaders because we hear from thousands of women each year who have lost custody of children to abusive ex-spouses due to their tactics. Many of these same groups are pushing state legislatures to adopt forced joint custody laws. Those include the Children's Rights Council (CRC, in actuality a men's custody organization), the National Fatherhood Institute, Institute for American Values and National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development. Men's custody advocates have helped to shape a backlash against tougher enforcement of child support orders. Angry dads groups have a strong advocate in a House Ways and Means staff member, Ron Haskins, who promoted earlier programs in demonstration projects on child visitation and access and who was reported in a 1998 CRC newsletter to be working with Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL) to get $2 billion in funding for their programs. Haskins is a former board member of CRC and got credit for defeating protections for battered women on welfare in final conference committee (after both the House and Senate had approved). The ostensible goals of H.R. 3073 are to teach parenting skills to poor noncustodial fathers and to enhance their employability so that they may obtain jobs in order to meet child support obligations. Other services are may be anger

management training, family planning information, tips on relationship skills and money management. Religious groups are eligible for funding, and right wing groups may get a disproportionate chare since they may be more willing to "promote marriage" as a goal, without regard to the situation. In a letter to House members, NOW questioned the bill's approach calling attention to the dangers of domestic violence, the greater needs of custodial parents on welfare (whose services are constantly in fiscal jeopardy), and the legislation's unconstitutional gender discriminatory language. NOW suggested that funds would be better utilized by custodial parents, especially those who are in the welfare-to-work process. Another part of the bill provided funds for vocational training and other services for welfare recipients, but restricted custodial parents (mostly women) to a small eligibility pool with increased qualifying requirements. That part of H.R. 3073 was attached to the Omnibus appropriations measure and was adopted in the Senate. It is noteworthy that in the mid-1990's a series of demonstration projects that were nearly identical to the programs proposed in the Fathers Count Act were conducted in seven urban areas, with both private and government funding. Known as the Parents Fair Share Demonstration, the projects were later evaluated and, for five sites, were found to NOT result in a significant increase in child support compliance. Prior to the vote, NOW pointed out to House members that the promotion of marriage is not an appropriate government policy and will not solve the complicated problems of poverty. Numerous studies have shown that family violence is a major factor in divorce and in keeping women poor; five major recent studies have documented that up to one-third of welfare recipients are currently experiencing abuse and a much higher proportion of poor women report experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault at some point in their lives. H.R. 3073 would provide three grants of national significance that appear designed especially for Wade Horn's National Father Institute and David Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values. Wade Horn, a columnist on family issues in conservative newspapers, relies on discredited fatherlessness research to "prove" that father-absence alone causes social ills such as teen suicide, poverty, high crime rates, low SAT scores, juvenile delinquency and recently wrote an article about "malicious moms." David Blankenhorn endorses marriage as a cure for domestic violence! All of these organizations, together with the Children's Rights Council, have

encouraged courtroom use of the "parental alienation syndrome," a phony " condition" that has been used against custodial moms. PAS says that women who report abuse are mentally ill and brainwash children against the father -and therefore judges may conclude that custody should be switched to the father. Biased judges who have little understanding of domestic violence or child abuse often doubt evidence provided about abusive behavior by the husband and award custody to the father. This unjust practice has become a growing trend in family courts all across the country. Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) worked closely with NOW, NOW/LDEF and battered women's advocates to offer several key amendments to H.R. 3073. The amendments would have changed "fatherhood" to "parenting" programs, removed the gender discrimination and deleted the marriage promotion aspect. The amendment did garner 172 votes, but not enough for adoption. President Clinton and Vice President Gore both indicated their support of fatherhood programs, and otherwise progressive social policy organizations advocated for H.R. 3073. NOW suspects that neither the president or vice president knows much about the true agenda of the men's rights/men's custody groups and has requested meetings with administration officials to discuss the matter. The same might be said for the progressive organizations like Children's Defense Fund, Center for Law and Social Policy and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities -- all organizations that advise Congress on poverty programs. One thing that is overlooked by supporters of these fatherhood programs is that there is very little in the way of scientific evidence that supports the assertions about the consequences of "fatherlessness" and about the need for father involvement. In fact, the evidence is heavily weighted in the opposite direction. NOW's opposition to H.R. 3073 provoked a torrent of op-eds by conservative columnists and hate mail from men's custody activists as well as just plain old women-haters, some of whom promised violence. The power of these groups has grown in recent years -- due in part to their use of the Internet to communicate. Some websites openly advertise that they will help non-custodial parents to reduce or completely eliminate child support responsibility by advising them on a scorched-earth litigation strategy and identifying friendly judges. For more information on the men's custody organizations and their hateful leaders, see http://www.gate.net/~liz/liz Also, Trish Wilson has written thorough analysis of the assertions of the fatherhood promotion groups in "The Costs of Propaganda: The Myth of "Fatherlessness" in the online journal

Feminista! at http://www.feminista.com See Vol. 3, No. 4. Please make an appointment with each member of your Congressional delegation to discuss what is wrong with this legislation. It is particularly important for NOW chapter leaders who have heard from women who have lost custody to abusive spouses with the help of men's custody groups to communicate with their Senators. Call or write the President and the Vice President and give them the same information. If you need supportive materials, please contact NOW Government Relations at (202) 628-8669, ext. 101 or by email at govtrel@now.org Please make a call to the District offices during recess to thank Representatives for their vote and don't forget to thank Rep. Mink for her dedicated efforts in trying to amend the bill. Members who voted correctly are: Democratic Reps. Abercrombie, Ackerman, Baird, Baldwin, Berman, Capuano, Clay, Conyers, DeFazio, Deutsch, Doggett, Edwards, Filner, Frank (MA), Gejdenson, Goode, Hastings (FL), Hinchey, Hoeffel, Jones (OH), Kilpatrick, Lantos, Maloney (NY), Markey, McDermott, McKinney, Meek (FL), Olver, Owens, Payne, Pelosi, Peterson (MN), Rivers, Schakowsksy, Scott, Serrano, Sherman, Sisisky, Slaugher, Stark, Tierney, Towns, Velazquez, Watt (NC), Waxman, Weiner, Wexler, Woolsey, and Independent Sanders. Republican Reps who voted correctly: Barr, Bartlett, Burton, Campbell, Chabot, Chenoweth-Hage, Collins, Cooksey, Cox, DeMint, Dickey, Doolittle, Graham, Hoekstra, Hostettler, Hutchinson, Sam Johnson, Jones (NC), Kingston, LaHood, Largent, Manzullo, Moran (KS), Paul, Pombo, Rohrabacher, Royce, Ryun (KS), Salmon, Sanford, Scarborough, Schaffer, Sensenbrenner, Sessions, Shadegg, Smith (MI), Spence, Stump, Sununu, Toomey, and Watkins. Rep. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) office helped organize the Republican votes against the bill.

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