December 23, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Reporting on issues surrounding child support isn’t getting any better if this piece is any indication (New York Post, 12/21/16). The headline to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s article – “How to Make Deadbeat Dads do More to Help Out” - let’s readers know what they’re in for.
Deadbeat dads? How often does the term need to be debunked before people like Riley stop using it? For many years now, we’ve known two important things about “deadbeat dads.” First, they’re not deadbeats and second, they’re not always dads. Amazingly, Riley seems to grasp the first fact, but labels fathers who can’t make their payments “deadbeats” anyway.
The fact is that, according to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, some 63% of non-custodial parents behind on their child support payments report earning under $10,000 per year. Those aren’t deadbeats, those are parents who don’t have the money to pay what they owe. In fact, they don’t have the money to pay much of anything.
As to the “dads” part of “deadbeat dads,” they’re a lot more likely to pay all or part of what they owe than are non-custodial mothers. Plus, they’re almost twice as likely as NC moms to be ordered to pay child support. So the idea – stated frankly by Riley’s headline and in the body of her article – that the problem with non-payment is one of fathers not paying mothers is simply false. The truth is that NC dads do a better job of supporting their kids than do NC moms. Riley never lets on.
Having inaccurately portrayed men as the problem, she moves on to other game with only somewhat better results
Riley notes that the percentage of non-custodial parents with a court order to pay support has been trending downward lately. And sure enough, the percentage of all NC parents under a child support order peaked at 60% (64.2% of NC dads, 39.8% of NC moms) in 2003 but declined to 48.9% (53.4% of NC dads, 28.8% of NC moms) in 2011. Why? Why, with our ever increasing emphasis on making sure that custodial parents receive child support, has there been a fairly precipitous decline in the percentage of cases with an order?
Riley’s “answer” fails to convince.
To some extent, this is an unintended consequence of welfare reform. When families (usually mothers) signed up for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, they were also required to register for child support. But since welfare reform, many families who don’t receive TANF have started receiving Medicaid or food stamps. Those programs don’t require a mother to register for child support.
That paragraph is a mess, but I think it means that, since welfare reform during the Clinton Administration placed a cap on how much could be received and for how long, welfare rolls are down. That means states are no longer establishing paternity and enforcing child support for as many parents as before. There’s just one problem with that theory; the percentage of people receiving welfare is going up, not down, as the Department of Health and Human Services reported (CNS News, 7/8/14).
“In 2011, 23.1 percent of the total population received or lived with a family member who received a benefit of any amount from TANF, SNAP, or SSI at some point during the year,” said the HHS report. “While falling steadily between 1993-2000, this annual recipiency rate began to increase after 2000, and increased more rapidly during and in the immediate aftermath of the ‘Great Recession.’
Admittedly, not all of those people were TANF recipients, but I’d be surprised if what’s true for SSI, etc. turned out to be much different from TANF. And if the percentage of people receiving assistance is going up and the population is going up then the number of people on welfare is going up sharply. So much for Riley’s first theory.
In addition to the decline in TANF, [University of Texas at Austin Professor Daniel] Schroeder points to other reasons why states haven’t been opening up as many new cases as they should have. For one thing, states are rewarded by the federal government for successful enforcement. They’ll look better and get more federal assistance if they have fewer cases but ensure collection on a higher percentage of them.
That makes even less sense. Schroeder seems to be suggesting that states are keeping the number of Title IV-D cases artificially low so they’ll look better to the federal child support enforcement bureaucracy. If he has any evidence for the proposition, Riley doesn’t mention it. Nor does she explain why states would all of a sudden have started doing so. If that were a smart move in 2014, why wasn’t it a smart move in, say, 2000 or 2003 or any other year?
Schroeder may not be the best person to cite. He seems not to know the basics.
Schroeder also notes that in about half of the states, noncustodial parents have to reimburse the government for public assistance their families receive.
No, Title IV-D applies to all states, all 50 of them. Yes, the OCSE has begun granting waivers to certain states that want to deviate from certain enforcement mechanisms. That’s an effort to give states more leeway in how they collect child support with the hope that they’ll be able to pioneer more effective, less draconian methods. But the notion that half the states (for some reason) don’t have to comply with the dictates of Title IV-D is not correct. There’s some wiggle room now where there used to be none, but Riley’s statement is flat wrong.
So why is the percentage of child support orders trending down?
I’ll get into that and more next time.
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