Counterintuitive news of the day: when fathers pay child support payments ostensibly to their poverty-stricken ex-partners and children, they’re only helping deepen the women’s poverty.
How? Well, in many states the child support payments made to women on welfare go directly to the state and federal coffers with little to nothing reaching the women themselves. According to the Times, about half the states pass nothing from child support along to the custodial parent (usually a woman), while in most others the custodian gets only $50/month. This counterproductive structure comes thanks to federal law, which requires states to use child support statements to reimburse welfare payments.
To me, the problems with such a system seem blindingly apparent: First, child support payments are, duh, supposed to support children. When the money is going to the government instead of the child, it’s unlikely that is happening. Second, though a goal of the country’s welfare program is to help people to self-sufficiency (a laughable goal given the program’s structure, but still…), refusing them the aid they are due helps ensure that they are unable to do exactly that. As the Times notes:
When Congress set up the current child support system in the 1970s, recovering welfare costs was an explicit goal, with some experts arguing that it was only fair for fathers to repay the government for sustaining their offspring and that giving families the money was a form of “double dipping.” But experience and research have suggested to most experts and state and federal officials from both parties that the policy is counterproductive — driving fathers into the underground economy and leaving families more dependent on aid.
Given that this – at this point – just about universally acknowledged, why hasn’t anything changed?
Well, it almost did change…until the deficit the Bush administration has created crept back into congress’s conscience:
Reflecting a growing, bipartisan sense that diverting child support money to government coffers is counterproductive, Congress, in the Deficit Reduction Act passed in early 2006, took a modest step toward change. Beginning in 2009, states will be permitted to pass along up to $100 for one child and $200 for two or more children, with the state and federal governments giving up a share of welfare repayments they have received in the past.
The Bush administration has set a goal of increasing the share of collections distributed to families and reducing the amount retained by the government. But the drive to reduce the budget deficit has gotten in the way. As part of last-minute budget crunching, the Republican-controlled Congress in that same act reduced by 20 percent the child-support enforcement money it gives to the states, starting this fall. Many states say the effort to force them to pay more of the enforcement costs will impede collections and prevent them from passing more money on to needy families.
So, there’s some good movement, but not enough. Recently, a number of governors wrote a letter to Congress requesting that Congress repeal the program that gives child support money to the government to repay welfare in toto. But in the meantime there are still many too many women like Karla Hart (on whom the Times focuses), who can’t give their kids the $9 they need for a school activity. Getting rid of this welfare “repayment” won’t solve that but those $200/month “extra” would go a long way.