Washington, D.C. — State child support programs play a crucial role in aiding custodial parents with paying for the costs of raising children, serving approximately 1 in 5 children in the United States in fiscal year 2022. A new Center for American Progress column analyzes how decades of problems with distribution, debt, and enforcement have undermined the ability of state child support agencies to serve low-income families. The column also offers recommendations on how states can take action to improve child support.
In 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, paying child support pushed 258,000 people, primarily noncustodial parents and those who live with them, into poverty. Punitive enforcement and debt policies make any missed payments costly for noncustodial parents, and those with few resources can fall into debt, particularly if they know their payments will not reach their children.
To receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), for example, custodial parents are required to participate in the child support program and assign their child support rights to the state, leading to custodial parents with some of the lowest incomes being denied access to child support they are owed. In fact, states and the federal government take more than $1 billion in child support payments from families every year to reimburse TANF and foster care costs instead of dispersing the money to the children for whom it is meant. To solve these structural problems, this column recommends three ways states can take action and improve child support:
- Ensure that 100 percent of child support payments go to families.
- Reduce child support debt that noncustodial parents owe to the government.
- Redefine child support enforcement to prioritize providing opportunities instead of punishing people who cannot pay.
“Low-income families are bearing the brunt of the impacts of debt and harsh enforcement measures that punish parents for not making consistent payments, while the state keeps the collections for itself instead of supporting children,” said Kyle Ross, policy analyst for Inclusive Economy and author of the column. “Policymakers must prioritize the needs of these families and avoid policies that trap people in poverty. Taking these three steps would benefit our most economically vulnerable children and give them the resources they need to succeed.”
Read the column: “3 Ways States Can Improve Child Support” by Kyle Ross
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