The Trump administration is urging Congress to “overhaul” child support enforcement practices (Washington Examiner, 8/7/18). The linked-to article is short on specifics, but, from what I can gather, the White House looks like it intends to address some problems, just not those that need addressing.
The White House has called for an overhaul of federal child support enforcement to shift more responsibility for children's welfare from the government to parents, part of the administration’s larger welfare reform agenda.
In a previously unreported report to congressional Republicans, White House officials recommended requiring parents to cooperate with child support enforcement in order to be eligible for government benefits, including for programs that do not currently have such requirements, such as food stamps and housing aid.
“Cooperate with child support enforcement…” I wonder what that means. I’ll hazard the guess that it means in part cooperating with paternity establishment. The Office of Child Support Enforcement and the state agencies it funds have always been tasked with establishing paternity for children born to a mother who then seeks federal benefits such as those via Temporary Aid to Needy Families. For many years, the rate of paternity establishment was astonishingly low. Mothers simply refused to name the father or claimed they didn’t know.
More recently, rates of paternity establishment have increased, but I suspect there are still mothers who balk at identifying the father of their children. So it looks like the president is arguing that the failure to cooperate in establishing paternity should result in the loss of federal welfare benefits.
What I’d like to know is whether the word “cooperate” includes the concept of identifying the correct father or can it include the behavior we see too often, i.e. that of simply identifying any man as the dad whether he is or not. I doubt that the Administration will require state attorneys general to act ethically in establishing paternity. Again, those AG’s offices all too frequently simply tag some man as the dad and, even when they know he’s not, continue dunning him for money for a child who’s not his. Gabriel Cornejo in Houston is but one example of exactly that.
Given that this move by the Trump Administration looks very much like an effort to cut costs, I strongly suspect that there’s nothing in the move to adequately fund efforts to enforce the visitation rights of non-custodial parents. The paltry $10 million per year currently spent on doing so is entirely inadequate and produces no apparent results.
That’s ironic of course. If the Administration truly wants to “shift more responsibility for children's welfare from the government to parents,” then enforcing visitation would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. As Sanford Braver revealed 20 years ago, non-custodial dads who have easy, regular and plentiful access to their kids are far more likely than other dads to pay what they owe. It’s not the money that’s the problem in so many cases, it’s the lack of contact with their children. Rightly or wrongly, those fathers balk at paying a hostile ex to support kids they don’t get to see.
So enforcement of visitation orders would result in more child support paid and fewer mothers asking the federal government for welfare benefits. That would make sense, but if it’s part of the Administration’s plans, the article doesn’t mention it.
There are countless improvements that need to be made to the child support system. Too bad the Trump Administration seems to have addressed none of them.