General Articles

Three States and the District of Columbia Receive

Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, and the District of Columbia have each received an "out-of-wedlock" bonus of $25 million from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "Out-of-wedlock" bonuses are given to states and territories that have the largest reduction in the ratio of births to unmarried women compared to births to married women.

In order to qualify, states must also show a decrease in their abortion rate between 2002 and 1995. The abortion rate is measured as the number of abortions divided by the number of births. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), between 1995 and 2002, New York’s abortion rate declined .6 percent, New Hampshire’s rate declined .2 percent, Maryland’s rate declined 4.6 percent, and the District of Columbia’s rate declined 39.1 percent.1

Under the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, HHS can give up to five states and three territories an "out-of-wedlock" bonus each year. The bonus can be used for welfare programs, but cannot be used for medical care.

Many advocates object to this program. In a paper on the bonuses, CLASP suggests that there is little sense to which states receive the bonuses, "From a statistical perspective, the formula could reward a state even if its number of out-of-wedlock births stays the same. This might happen if the number of marital births in the state increased."2

Advocates also point out that which states receive the funds make little sense on a programmatic level as well. Ron Haskins Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Co-Director, Welfare Reform & Beyond at the Brookings Institution and former staff director of the House of Representatives subcommittee responsible for welfare states, "There is a good reason to doubt that the bonus enacted in 1996 for states that reduce their illegitimacy and abortion are operating effectively. In fact, there is no discernable reason why some states win the bonus and others don’t; states that win do not seem to have operated any special type of program."

The District of Columbia has received the bonus for the past six years. Officials in the District of Columbia’s Department of Human Services’, Income Maintenance Administration attribute much of the decline to their "Be On the Safe Side" campaign.3 The campaign is run by Motivational Educational Entertainment (MEE) Productions Inc. and includes advertisements on radio and public transportation, peer education, and community partnerships.4 Many of the materials included in this campaign have been developed by youth.

The program, however, is not specifically designed to reduce "out-of-wedlock" births. According to Kate Jesberg, administrator of the Income Maintenance Administration, "It’s a mixed message. It’s both abstinence and safe sex, if they are already engaged in sex. We don’t particularly talk about sex, per se; we find that engaging people in an ongoing program actually serves to allow them to delay sex."5

William Smith vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States suggests that the government has take the wrong approach, "Rather than provide bonuses that may in the end be based on statistical anomalies, the federal government should reward states that use scientifically proven methods – such as comprehensive education about sexuality – to help all women avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases."


  1. "HHS Awards Bonuses" Clasp Update The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) 17.10/11 (October/ November 2004): 4.
  2. "Out-Of-Wedlock Bonuses" Reauthorization Issues CLASP January 2002.
  3. S.A. Miller,"Safe-sex, abstinence programs applauded," Washington Times, 5 October 2004, accessed 29 October2004.
  4. MEE Productions, "Title," Press release published on 5 December 2001, accessed 29 October 29, 2004.
  5. S.A. Miller, "Safe-sex, abstinence programs applauded."