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Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

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Local billboard’s intent questioned by students

Pro-marriage message one of four in Eastern Wash. funded by federal grant

“Marriage is good for your finances!” proclaims a large billboard on Rose St. between Walla Walla and College Place.

The billboard features a young couple proudly clutching their piggybank.

“I’ve always assumed it was a religious message because it’s pro-marriage,” said senior Deanna Lucini. “Although weighing in financial benefits was interesting twist. I’ve seen more billboards in past that have talked about marriage as important so as not to sin by having sex out of wedlock.”

In fact, the billboard is funded by a federal grant from the Healthy Marriage Initiative, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. An organization called “Marriage Friendly Communities” (MFC) puts on workshops and seminars in relationship education, primarily in Spokane. Some of these classes take place in churches, but this is due to access and attendance issues, according to LeAnna Benn, the project manager.

“We are open to any community group,” she said.

“Why aren’t there billboards about children without education? Where do our taxes go?” said one anonymous first-year after learning the billboard’s origin.   “I mean, the billboard isn’t the problem, the problem is the tax incentives to get married. The government has no role in encouraging marriage.”

First-year Shannon Flood, however, found the billboard practical. “It has an obvious agenda. And the government has a vested interest in family stability.”

The ‘finances’ billboard directs viewers to marriagefriendlycommunities.org, the project’s Web site, that states its goals: to “equip small communities and rural populations with skills for residents, raise the awareness of the value and importance of marriage and reduce the divorce rate in Eastern Washington.”

MFC also trains lay people to put on classes. No one from Walla Walla has yet expressed interest, though they hope to find someone soon.

The ‘finances’ billboard is one of four billboards throughout Eastern Washington touting the benefits of marriage; the others proclaim that marriage helps your health, children and sex life.
“We sometimes get calls wondering if these statements are true: especially the ‘sex life’ one,” said Benn, laughing. “But they’re all backed up with data from the federal government.”

In 2004, President Bush approved the Working Families Tax Relief Act, which extended the “Marriage Tax Relief provision” intended to save married couples more than $1,700 annually, on top of the benefits of pooled income, shared expenses and joint filing. Married couples are also less burdened when it comes to home buying and estate planning.

“It’s interesting that they didn’t combine those messages,” Lucini said of the multiple billboards. Benn had hoped that the four boards would be rotated, but since their installation a year ago, they have remained in place.

As to the ‘finances’ sign’s effectiveness, Benn said that people have called, e-mailed and even traveled from Idaho to participate in MFC’s classes.

Some, however, don’t respond to the advertisement’s message. “I don’t see anyone getting married to help their finances,” Lucini said. “There was no aura of romance or love, just a piggy bank. People are likely to ignore it.”

“It’s an unusual way to go about [advertising],” said College Place resident Sarah Hudson. “It definitely grabbed my attention, but I don’t find it convincing.”

“It seems pretty irrelevant,” said senior Loren Schmidt. “It’s eschewing family values by appealing to greed.”

In both Walla Walla and College Place, divorce rates hover at around 10 percent: Walla Walla at 9.5, College Place at 10.3, according to city-data.com. National reports show that divorce rates have been falling since peaking in 1981 and are now at the lowest level since 1970. However, marriage rates have dropped by nearly 30 percent in past 25 years. Estimates show that approximately 54 percent of the Walla Walla population is married, compared to 49.9 percent of College Place residents.

“My marriage is really good,” said local resident Janet Bland. “Stress is what kills people. When I saw [the billboard], I turned to my husband and said, ‘I’m the reason you’re living longer!'”

“It’s relationship education; it doesn’t require that they be married,” said Benn of MFC’s programs, adding that the classes are open to single people, same-sex couples and anyone interested. “We try to shed light on a lot of issues.”

“It’s exciting to be involved with relationship education,” added Benn, a psychology and sociology major in college who has been working with teens for 25 years. “There’s a vacuum, a lack of information about how to make relationships work. It’s definitely a need.”

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