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Bayh, Obama Introduce Legislation To Reduce Barriers to Responsible Fatherhood

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Bayh, Obama Introduce Legislation To Reduce Barriers to Responsible Fatherhood

U.S. Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Barack Obama (D-IL) today introduced legislation to encourage more men to take responsibility for their children and to address the challenges faced by millions of American families as a result of the national epidemic of absentee fathers.

In the last 40 years, the number of children without fathers in America has more than quadrupled, from 5 million in 1960 to more than 24 million today. An estimated 40 percent of the children who live in fatherless households have not seen their fathers in at least one year. Studies show that children without fathers in their lives are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They also are more likely to have behavioral problems, to run away from home, and to become teenage parents themselves.

The Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2007 removes government penalties on married families and offers support for fathers trying to do the right thing while cracking down on men who avoid their parental responsibilities. The bill would provide fathers with innovative job training services and other economic opportunities, while expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to help non-custodial parents trying to support their families. It would also increase child support enforcement by helping governments collect a projected $13 billion in payments from those who don't fulfill their parental responsibilities.

The Bayh-Obama legislation would help ensure that money paid for child support goes directly to children and their mothers and does not result in loss of food assistance for eligible families. It would also strengthen domestic violence prevention services.

"Conceiving a child doesn't make you a man, but raising one responsibly does," Bayh said. "Fatherlessness is an issue many politicians would prefer to avoid, but elected officials have a moral obligation not to sit idly by while communities crumble because of the epidemic of absentee fathers. I am not naïve enough to believe that government alone can solve this problem, but together we can play a constructive role in crafting policies that attack the root causes of this epidemic. Fatherless children are more likely to do poorly in school and have emotional and behavioral problems. They are more likely to commit crimes, smoke cigarettes, and abuse drugs and alcohol. Many of our most pressing societal ills can be addressed by tackling the fatherhood crisis effectively."

"As fathers, we need to teach our boys what makes you a man is not just having a child, it's having the courage to raise a child," Obama said. "Congress can make it easier for those who make that responsible choice—and make it harder for those who avoid it. This legislation will provide support for fathers who are trying to do the right thing in making child-support payments by providing them with job training and job opportunities and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. It stops penalizing marriage in the tax code and makes sure that children and families, not the government, receive every penny of child support. It would also crack down on those who avoid their responsibility by increasing child-support enforcement, a measure that will collect nearly $13 billion in payments that can help raise, nurture, and educate children."

In the U.S. House of Representatives, companion legislation is being introduced by Congresswoman Julia Carson (D-IN) and Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL).

"This is good legislation for families across Indiana and America," Carson said. "It sends a message to our men that, once you become a parent, you have a responsibility to that child and we're going to hold you accountable, but we're also going to provide you the tools for success. The role a father plays in the life of a child is invaluable, and it's heartbreaking to consider that almost 25 million kids in this country grow up without a father in their lives. This legislation will take steps toward changing that."

"This bill is a key component of a fresh approach to family support, one which supports and strengthens families before they are at risk," Davis said. "This legislation provides the tools to strengthen relationships between fathers and their children and encourages fathers to become good nurturers and providers. The fullest positive participation by fathers helps to create a caring environment capable of fostering optimal child development, promotes humanistic cultural and community traditions while reducing poverty, teenage pregnancies, juvenile delinquency and incidents of child abuse and neglect. In the process of assuming responsibility for fatherhood, fathers themselves acquire new self confidence, new parenting skills, higher educational accomplishments and greater economic independence."

Last year, Congress passed legislation based on a proposal introduced by Senator Bayh that provided up to $50 million each year for the next five years in funding for responsible fatherhood programs nationwide as part of the spending reconciliation bill.

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