DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

Shouldn’t Child Support Actually Help Children?

Adam Thompson reports in the Progressive States Network that states keep child support payments that are meant to help families. Thompson writes,

"Child-support payments for children on welfare are being used in almost every state to recoup state and federal welfare expenses. When Congress created the child-support system 30 years ago, recouping welfare costs by siphoning off collected child-support payments was an explicit goal. Yet close to half the states pass along none of the collected child-support while most others pay only $50 per child, even when a non-custodial parent pays several hundred more."

However, a new federal waiver program in Wisconsin has shown giving money directly to families can have a positive and lasting effect, even benefiting the state in the long run because it helps to get more families off welfare.
Thompson writes, “In Wisconsin, a federal waiver allowed the state to forward all money collected to families. As a result, more non-custodial parents came forward and paid more of the money they owed, making families less reliant on aid and making up for any short-term loss of government revenue spent on welfare.”

However, the Bush administration did not renew the waiver. Reports suggest the administration is concerned with balancing the budget in the face of great deficits. It appears that income supports and other domestic economic issues are not high on the priority list.

The issues of poverty, adequacy of income, and family supports need to be a priority.

Child support and welfare are interconnected with income security. As I have written most people apply for welfare in crisis. Almost 40% of women receiving welfare are fleeing abusive situations and would need to have a protective distance from the father. In addition, poverty and low incomes affect both the men and women.

As the New York Times reports, “For the poorest men and women, the story is mixed. Young fathers with little education or job prospects find themselves in arrears and facing jail time or the loss of their driver’s licenses as a result, making it all the harder to start earning and paying.”

There are many policy implications from intersecting factors at play in this story. But none can compete with the lure of the simple political message connecting deficits and welfare spending.

I grew up in a single parent household. My mother was able to support my brother and myself, but it would have been much fairer if my father had paid his child support. He didn't pay it, not once. He said he could not afford it. He said we could stay with him and did for visits, but he could not afford to send money to my mother.

He was not a bad man or a ‘dead-beat’ dad, but he was not able to make enough money until we had actually grown up. My childhood was forty years ago but I work now with women and men going through the same situations.

Income adequacy and family supports should be the policy focus here. For example, $50 extra a month will not cover the child care needed for single parents to work outside the home or go to the PTA. More and more middle class parents are finding child care and other family supports wanting in our policy agendas. The question is: How do we devise laws, regulations and incentives that make family sustaining income and systems a possibility for all?

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 6:29 AM, Dec 10, 2007 in Economic Opportunity | Welfare
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