Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children and Families, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. She is Tara Wall, not Tara Walker. This version has been corrected.

NOW Demands Access to Program Geared to Fathers

Lori Kaplan, head of the District's Latin American Youth Center, said the program does not exclude mothers.
Lori Kaplan, head of the District's Latin American Youth Center, said the program does not exclude mothers. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007; 11:30 AM

It's called the Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Initiative, and the Bush administration doles out up to $50 million annually to fund its programs to build job skills and help fathers connect better with their children. But the National Organization for Women says the effort is illegal because it's only about men.

NOW and Legal Momentum, another advocacy group, filed complaints yesterday with the Department of Health and Human Services alleging sex discrimination in the initiative that is funding about 100 programs this year.

The complaints cite 34 programs, including one run by the District and two others in the Washington area, that, they say, do not offer the services to women. That, the groups say, violates Title IX, the law that prevents sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and is best known for forcing universities to offer comparable sports programs for men and women.

"What we're asking them to do is to make sure that the grantees provide equal services to women and men," said Kathy Rodgers, president of Legal Momentum. "It should be a parenthood initiative."

Administration officials and grant recipients say the challenge is misguided. The programs may target men, they say, but helping men become better fathers will benefit women and children, too. Moreover, HHS officials say they have told grant recipients they must open their fatherhood programs to women.

"If a woman says she wants to apply and it's not happening, we want to know about it," said Tara Wall, at the Administration for Children and Families, the HHS agency that oversees the grants. "Yes, fathers are the target group, but at the same time allowing equal access is required."

Problem solved? Not exactly, said NOW President Kim Gandy: "The proposals they received and funded clearly indicate that they only intend to serve fathers."

One of the grants NOW objects to is a five-year, $2 million-a-year award to the D.C. Department of Human Services. It expects to help as many as 2,500 low-income fathers with parenting skills, substance-abuse prevention and treatment, job training and educational development, said Debra Daniels, a D.C. spokeswoman.

"It's to stabilize families, to improve the lives of children," Daniels said. Asked if women are eligible, she said, "No, because this is the D.C. Fatherhood Initiative program."

Another grant flagged by NOW is a nearly $1 million annual award to the National Fatherhood Initiative, a Gaithersburg group formerly headed by Wade F. Horn, the assistant HHS secretary who oversees the grant program. In addition to the discrimination issue, Gandy said, the grant smacks of "cronyism." Horn was out of the country and unavailable for comment, but Wall said there was nothing improper about the grant. Officials with the group did not return several calls.

Another group under fire is the Latin American Youth Center in the District, which got a $250,000 annual grant to provide 30 young fathers a year with job training, language classes and parenting skills. But women can enroll, too, said Lori Kaplan, the executive director.

"It doesn't mean that anywhere along the line our moms are getting excluded," she said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company