The Obama Administration and the federal government have released the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or the NPRM.  The publication is listed under Federal Register, Volume 79, No. 221 and was released on November 17, 2014.  The register proposes numerous changes to both state and federal child support regulations.  The Republican controlled Congress has proposed a bill to stop the Administration from implementing these changes.  Although the proposed adjustments to the guidelines conveniently exclude any mention of abolishing the license revocation process or the ending of applying interest and other financial penalties to delinquent payments (among other issues), there are some items listed that have caused the GOP to scream foul.  According to Congress.gov (2015), the bill, H.R. 2688, introduced on June 9, 2015, would block any action from being taken to finalize or give effect to a certain proposed rule governing the Federal child support enforcement program.  The specific concerns that have been outlined by GOP leaders seem to be issues that not only help the noncustodial parents in their times of need, but underscore the violation of particular rights that are supposed to be afforded all America citizens when dealing with legal matters.

In a press release offered by House and Senate lawmakers which was released in June of this year, four top ranking Republican officials accused the Administration of violating the law by excluding Congress in the implementation of the proposed rules.  The claim was that, not only were the fundamentals of the child support and welfare laws being shaken from their foundation, there were other crucial flaws with the proposed changes.  Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman, Charles Boustany of Louisiana is on the record stating that the President’s rule could potentially let delinquent parents ‘off the hook’, (Ways and Means Committee, 2015).  There is no language within the Federal Register that remotely suggests that parents would be excused from paying child support or arrears.  There is language, however, that could assist parents when faced with adverse situations.

According to Chairman Dave Camp of House Ways and Means and Senator Orrin Hatch, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance (2014), one of the issues being challenged  by lawmakers is that the NPRM makes Federal financial participation available to the new job services program, other expanded items, and other allegedly de minimis items.  The other expanded items that the Republicans are against funding are all components that would benefit the child and the parent.  For example, minor transportation expenses such as public transportation money are included in the list of additional expenses.  Parents could use bus fair to participate in child support proceedings and related activities, (Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs, 2014).  Parents that are unable to attend child support hearings cannot present a case in their own defense once they have been sued for child support.   It is crucial that they have access to transportation to and from the hearings, even at the expense of the government.

Many child support orders are obtained by default judgments.  Based on the definition provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or HHS (2014), a default judgment is a decision that a tribunal makes when the defendant fails to respond or appear after proper notice. The tribunal, or the legal authority, can then apply any amount and any terms to the child support order with no exceptions.  The fact that the government officials are opposing changes that will provide money for transportation to such hearing means that those officials do not mind denying people the right to face their accuser in the court of law.  It is not enough that defendant must be properly served, people must be given every opportunity to attend the court hearing.  Not being able to afford transportation to and from the courthouse should be no reason to find a parent in default and ordering unrealistic child support payments be made on a regular basis for at least eighteen years.

One of the other costs being argued against is the alleged de minimis.  De minimis costs are costs associated with the inclusion of parenting time provisions entered as part of a child support order and incidental to a child support proceeding, (Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs, 2014).  By law, child support and visitation issues are separate and as such, different fees can be charged when heard before a judge.  The Federal Register would like any additional fees that would, traditionally, be charged when deciding parenting time to be considered too insignificant to charge the noncustodial parent for the time and money it may cost in order to process such requests.  The GOP would rather vote on a measure that would force parents to pay for those insignificant fees.  Deciding on a parenting plan should be something that the government encourages but instead, it is something that our officials are trying to defeat. The less money spent on trivial items means more money that can possibly be spent on the children. 

Thirdly, Camp and Hatch are ordering a halt to the creating of a new job services program to assist unemployed and underemployed noncustodial parents.  According to PolicyLink.org (2015), Federal financial participation (FFP) is available for job services for eligible noncustodial parents that are identified in the state plan.    Currently there are only eight states in the entire country participating the National Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration or CSPED.  The states are the recipients of the employment demonstration programs which began in 2012 and ends September 2017.  The Department of Health and Human Services or HHS (2015) reported that each grantee will receive $775,000 in 1115 demonstration funds over five years.  This is money that will be used to assist noncustodial parents in many areas that hinder him or her from finding and retaining long-term and adequate employment.  Once the FFP is added, the total amount of funding available to each grantee over five years is $2.3 million, (HHS, 2015).   The GOP does not agree with this new jobs program proposal even though 42 other states have been excluded from participating in such an important program.  The Letter from Congress (2015), states that the NPRM creates a new job services program not found in the list of allowable program types in the federal statute.  While the allowable program types offer limited assistance in a small number of states to some parents, these programs barely scratch the surface when it comes to decreasing the employment needs of low-income people, especially parents.

HHS (2015) has recently revealed that 70% of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents with no or low reported income.  It seems only proper public policy that the government help these poor parents find gainful employment.  Instead, the Republican leaders believe that the NPRM goes too far by stating that it adds new eligibility criteria for this new program, (Camp and Hatch, 2015).  The new eligibility criteria which these leaders have referred to as ‘particularly flagrant’ reveal strict and specific qualifications that must be fulfilled before a noncustodial parent can be declared eligible for employment and training programs.  According to the Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs (2014), the noncustodial parent must:

  • have a IV-D case

  • have a current child support order

  • be unemployed or not making regular payments

  • not be receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) assistance or assistance funded with state dollars counting towards TANF maintenance of effort (MOE)

  • not be enrolled in a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment Training Program

  • not be receiving the same job services under Workforce Investment Act (WIA)

  • not receiving a Federal Pell Grant

The GOP claims to have introduced H.R. 2688 to ensure that any changes that have been introduced are voted on as opposed to becoming law by way of an Executive Order signed by President Obama.  Of course, it is no secret that the GOP has failed to support many programs designed to assist those living in poverty in their time of need.  For example, Nick Wing and Arthur Delaney of the Huffington Post (2015) reported that Missouri State Representative, Rick Brattin (R), proposed banning food stamp recipients from using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) to buy steak and seafood.  Banning low-income people from eating, what is arguably, healthy food is immoral and unethical.  If it is not illegal, it most certainly should be placed in that category.  To single out items that may seem too expensive to be consumed by a poor taxpayer proves the insensitivity of many GOP leaders express when deciding on important legislative decisions. 

GOP leaders attempted to decrease the number of people receiving public assistance across the country by mandating that applicants pass a drug test before being approved for any benefits.  Consider states that have recently passed legislation in order to drug test public assistance applicants and recipients.   According to National Conference of State Legislatures or NCSL (2015), Utah passed H.B. 155 requiring individuals applying for cash assistance to complete a written questionnaire screening for illegal drug use.  Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma have implemented drug testing laws along with Utah and all state have Republican governors.  A state that has passed a drug testing law for TANF recipients, which ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts, is Florida.  Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order requiring that state employees and public assistance recipients submit to a random drug test.  Stacy Singer of the Palm Beach Post (2011) conveyed that hundreds of thousands of Floridians could have been affected forcing them to submit to drug tests or risk losing their public jobs and benefits.

After a few years and the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the higher courts have forced Governor Scott to surrender.  The Huffington Post (2015) reported that U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven in Orlando originally declared the law requiring urine test for the applicants to be unconstitutional search and seizure.  Scott has publicly declared that the ruling will not be appealed under his administration.  This does not mean, of course, that a new governor will not attempt to pass legislation in the future in order to drug test TANF applicants and recipients.  This defeat for Scott has nothing to do with the fact that the 11th Circuit found that only about 206 percent of Florida welfare applicants failed the drug test during the four months the law was in effect, (Huffington Post, 2015).  This is yet another illustration of the lack of compassion displayed by the GOP.  If these officials are left to vote on the passing of effective employment program that will benefit low-income parents, voters must consider all of the other programs that Republicans have attempted to disband over the years.

A final issue that is being challenged by Republican leaders pertains to the Executive Order declaring new policies regarding incarceration of noncustodial parents and the state plan.  According to Camp and Hatch (2015), the NPRM creates a new condition requiring a state to provide notice to both parties when a noncustodial parent (NCP) is incarcerated.  The current law does not include such a provision.  In most states, the NCP must affirmatively request to have their orders modified, (CLASP, 2015).  This is one of the main reasons, along with the fact that most states regard incarceration as voluntary unemployment, that child support arrears become too unmanageable for parents upon release.  There is nothing in the child support federal statute that requires the state to notify an incarcerated parent of any request for child support modifications.  As explained in the Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs (2014), states may elect to initiate review of an order after being notified that a NCP will be incarcerated for more than 90 days.  This process should already be written into the statutes. 

There is no national data that specifies how much parents (some non-biological) truly owe in arrears upon their released from prison, however, a few states have provided those statistics.  For instance, in a study conducted on 650 parental inmates in Massachusetts, there was an average of over $10k in child support debt owed upon the day of entry.  Without modifications, and after completing the prison sentence, the released parents were buried in child support debt.  According to Jessica Pearson (2004), they (the parents) will accumulate another $12,461 in child support debt, plus 12% interest ($6,254), and 6% penalty charges ($3,128).  By implementing the new statute found in §303.8, parents will have a better opportunity of overcoming barriers upon their release, thus being better providers for their children.  The GOP is more concerned with the fact that the current required contents of state plans are authorized in, and typically amended by, statute, (Camp and Hatch, 2015).   If the people in charge were actively seeking ways to assist parents and revising the child support laws to ensure a better the system, perhaps the signing of an Executive Order would not have been necessary.

The NPRN has actually introduced solid and viable solutions to pressing issues that are experienced by most, if not all, low-income parents.  Since incarceration is a possible punishment which could end the freedom of a parent for at least one day or even years (14 in Idaho), there must be stipulations on the law books to protect the rights of an incarcerated NCP.  The NPRM offers another protection to parents who are imprisoned as well as the custodial parent which has met with the disapproval of some of those in Republican Party.  The Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs (2014), lists a proposal stating that the state must provide notice when the agency learns that a noncustodial parent is incarcerated, to the incarcerated parent and the custodial parent.  The current law does nothing to specify any notice conditions of a jailed parent.  This means that the payments, arrears penalties, and fees will continue to accumulate without any official notification about the debt or the case to either parent.

Under the new statute, both parents are informed of the right to request the state to review and, upon request, to adjust the order, (The Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs, 2014).  By implementing this seemingly minor process, millions (perhaps billions) of dollars can be reduced in the amount of child support arrears owed by parents across the nation.  It is no secret that former President Clinton and the Republican led Congress are responsible for the monstrosity called the Deadbeat Punishment Act of 1998.  This attempt to recover welfare payments from noncustodial parent has been an almost complete failure where low-income families are concerned.  The government fares far better in collections and retentions of child support payments courtesy of the collection and distribution laws. The Obama Administration, following federal guidelines, have proposed legitimate and desperately needed changes to the unconstitutional child support system.  These proposals offer minimal improvement to the law. Yet, Republican officials would rather pass a law arguing against the avenue used to implement the changes, instead of having a serious discussion about the benefits of a systematical facelift. 

This stall tactic will only prolong the passing of much needed improvements to the child support system and possibly eliminating others.  The delay will continue while children and parents continue to suffer from the current child support laws.  Make no mistake, even with the possible improvements, the system remains extremely flawed.  The Child Support Enforcement Agencies, both state and federal, need a complete overhaul. Parents should not be ‘nickel and dimed’ when going to court over child support and visitation issues. There should be no discussion about the accumulation of arrears while a parent is incarcerated.  The laws allowing the incarceration of poor parents and/or adding the burden of heavy debt on these parents should be abolished.  In America, the need for more employment and training programs are needed to assist low-income parents, especially as the country continues to recover from the recession.  Furthermore, people should be notified, in writing, of any possible changes to child support orders.  Parents should not be excluded from receiving notification simply because they are incarcerated.  People have the right to know when they are being sued.  Equally as important is a person knowing when a judgment changes for or against his or her best interest.  It is time to hold all politicians responsible for repairing the broken child support system and the destroyed lives that are the direct result of failed child support policies.

References

 

Camp, D., & Hatch, O. (2014, December 22). Ways and means forms. Retrieved from

 

         http://waysandmeansforms.house.gov/uploadedfiles/nprm_scanned_letter_12.22.14.pdf

House of Representatives. (2015). H.R.2688 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): To block any action from being taken to finalize or give effect to a certain proposed rule governing the Federal child support enforcement program. | Congress.gov | Library of congress. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2688

Huffington Post. (2015, March 5). Rick scott gives up trying To drug test florida welfare applicants. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/05/florida-welfare-drug-testing_n_6807268.html

National Conference of State Legislatures. (2015, May 8). Drug testing for welfare recipients and public assistance. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/drug-testing-and-public-assistance.aspx

NPRM: Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. (2014, November 17). Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/nprm-flexibility-efficiency-and-modernization-in-child-support-enforcement-programs

Pearson, J. (2004, March 9). Building debt while doing time: Child support and incarceration. Retrieved from http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/Building-Debt-While-Doing-Time-Child-Support-and-Incarceration.pdf

PolicyLink. (2015, January 12). The new proposed child support rule: What it means for low-income fathers. Retrieved from http://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/1%2012%2015-ChildSupportRule-Slides.pdf

Singer, S. (2011, March 11). Gov. rick scott's drug testing policy stirs suspicion. Retrieved from http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/business/gov-rick-scotts-drug-testing-policy-stirs-suspicio/nLq8f/

 

U.S.  Department of Health and Human Services, & Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, March). Changing a child support order. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/changing_a_child_support_order.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, & Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2015, March). The national child support noncustodial parent employment demonstration (CSPED). Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/csped_fact_sheet_1_march_2015.pdf

Ways and Means Committee. (2015). House, senate lawmakers announce bill to reaffirm congress’ role in welfare policy - Ways and means. Retrieved from http://waysandmeans.house.gov/house-senate-lawmakers-announce-bill-to-reaffirm-congress-role-in-welfare-policy/

 

Wing, N., & Delaney, A. (2015, April 21). A day in the life of a welfare recipient, according to

GOP legislation. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/21/welfare-

recipients-gop-legislation_n_7103126.html