While it is somewhat clear that parents who are applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are required to cooperate with child support enforcement, it may not be as clear when applying for other public programs.  According to Paula Roberts of the Center for Law and Social Policy or CLASP (2005), one of the requirements is that the person in the family with the legal right to do so must assign to the state any rights any child has in the family to receive child support.  This law is the reason that most states have the authority to retain most, if not all, child support payments during and after a period of time that a parent receives cash TANF benefits.  This regulation is so lucrative to the government that a reported $32 billion was collected on behalf of 16.3 million children.  If a family was receiving or has received TANF benefits, the amount passed through to those families was a miserable $118,136.280.  In contrast, the amount that the government retained during that same period was approximately a $10,268,017,098.  Due to the guidelines being more specific when TANF benefits are sought by a low-income parent, it is easy to believe that all public programs mandate cooperation with the child support agencies.  This is true to a certain extent, however, the requirements for cooperation are largely controlled by the individual state.

To begin, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) are both federally controlled medical programs providing health insurance to people and children who have incomes (or lack thereof) that qualify.  The individual who is the decision-maker must assign their rights to child support over to their respective state.  The individual must also assign the medical support rights of any children in the family if he/she has the legal capacity to do so, (CLASP, 2005).  These mandates are essentially uniform across the country, nevertheless, there is fine print associated with these laws that affect how medical benefits are awarded and maintained.  For instance, all states must establish a “good cause” statute for persons’ who refuse to cooperate with child support enforcement.  In most states this clause only applies in very limited circumstances.  According to Roberts (2005), these reasons include:

  1. Situations where there is domestic violence,

  2. The child was conceived through rape or incest, and

  3. Where a parent is contemplating placing the child for adoption.

Any other one may offer to justify using the ‘good cause’ clause when refusing to cooperate with child support enforcement usually do not apply.  Failure to cooperate does not mean that the parent loses all of his or her benefits.  Quite the contrary occurs when refusal to cooperate has been recorded by the county child support caseworkers.  If a parent refuses to cooperate, that individual will be denied Medicaid benefits.  However, all children within the household and/or listed on the case documents are still eligible for Medicaid.  Roberts (2005) states that this is because the statute requires cooperation from those who are “legally able”.  Parents can legally refuse to sign their rights to child support payments (current and future) over to the government without retribution regarding their medical benefits.  The children are still legally eligible for medical benefits offered by the state with no penalties and/or sanctions.  Based on the current state of the medical and insurance systems in America, one could argue that no insurance at all is equivalent to receiving state funded medical insurance.  Thus, refusing to sign over rights to child support in exchange for Medicaid may be a better option for the parent and the family.

SCHIP child support cooperation requirements are quite similar to the Medicaid requirements in that the program serves low-income children and refusal to cooperate with child support enforcement cannot terminate benefits.  This is due to the fact that the federal statute does not contain a child support assignment or cooperation provision, (Roberts, 2005).  Children cannot have private insurance while participating in SCHIP which has caused some dilemmas for the states that have chosen to include SCHIP in their Medicaid expansion program.  There is currently no requirement that state Medicaid agencies refer applicants or recipients to their state child support agency, (Roberts, 2005).  Unfortunately, parents are not being told this important information and are still being made to sue for child support thus assigning all child support payments over to the state. There are a handful of states that have chosen to manipulate the guidelines as a way to force parents to cooperate with child support enforcement.  By structuring the SCHIP program as a Medicaid Expansion, the Medicaid assignment and cooperation provision would apply, (Roberts, 2005). 

Less than 15 states have decided to use this example as a way to mandate child support participation.  States could implement SCHIP as an entirely individual program.  By doing this, the Medicaid guidelines would not apply but the state could write its own policies to impose cooperation requirements for low-income parents seeking medical insurance for their children.  It is important to note that if the state implements its SCHIP program through a Medicaid expansion and the individual that enrolls the children refuses to meet the assignment or cooperation requirements, the children, nonetheless, are still covered, (Roberts, 2005).  There are many parents being deceived by case workers as they are told that certain criteria must be met in order for medical benefits to be awarded.  Parents must be correctly informed in that even if they refuse to participate with the child support agency, the children will still receive medical benefits.  This is the law regardless of which state medical program that the parent chooses to apply.

Another benefit that many people believe requires cooperation with child support enforcement is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.  While states may have different titles for their SNAP programs, the purpose of the program remains the same across the nation.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture or the USDA (2015), SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals, and families.  This program is often the difference between children eating or starving so it is essential that the administrators of this program relay accurate eligibility information to all applicants.  The Food Nutrition Program (FNS) works with state agencies, nutritional education, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits, (USDA, 2015).  This is the reason that it is particularly disturbing to learn that parents applying for SNAP benefits are being forced to sue for child support in order to receive food stamps.

Although the federal government decides the general eligibility criteria for all state funded programs, the statute is obvious when explaining child support cooperation in exchange for food stamp benefits.  The Food Stamp Program (FSP) is available to people who need help purchasing food.  However, states have the option to impose a child support cooperation requirement on either the custodial or noncustodial parents who participate in FSP, (Roberts, 2005).  As of November, 2010, there were 18 states that include child support cooperation mandates in the FSP eligibility requirements.  There are two specific requirements that must be met in order for the applicant to be approved for the FSP.  Some states have implemented a comparable disqualification clause or a CS. Roberts (2005), explains that in this case, the state does not have a specific cooperation requirement for Food Stamp households.  Ohio and Georgia are a couple of states that have added a CD provision in the eligibility requirements of FSP and child support.  It is more specific to all public programs in that applications and recipients who fail to perform an action (including child support cooperation) in TANF are automatically sanctioned by the food stamp program as well, (Roberts, 2005).

Of course, if an individual is only applying for food stamp assistance, disqualification due to failure to cooperate with child support enforcement should not be an option.  The SNAP program is in place to help the most vulnerable families but the states with child support stipulations seem to have the highest dependents relying on the FSP to eat.  For example, Rita Price of the Columbus Dispatch (2014), wrote that the share of Ohio households reporting limited and uncertain ability to provide nutritious meals averaged 16% from 2011 to 2013.  The economy recovering from the Great Recession is undoubtedly one cause of this elevated percentage.  Food stamp cuts and rising grocery cuosts are keeping thousands of Ohio families from escaping the Great Recession’s worse effects, (Price, 2014).  The eligibility requirements that Ohio imposes on applicants that force people to sue for child support should also be included as one of the reasons for the food insecurity experienced by the most vulnerable Ohioans. 

The number of people experiencing food insecurities can be found in Georgia as well.  The Georgia Food Bank Association (2016) reported that 28.1 of children in Georgia-1 in 4 children-live in food insecure households.  Children should not be forced into starvation while there are more than adequate food programs in operation to support the less fortunate.  The limitations that the child support statutes impose on the hungry people of this nation are deplorable.  Cooperation with child support enforcement should not be the determining factor when deciding whether or not our most needy citizens will eat or starve.  Not to mention, there have been reports of case workers demanding the cooperation with child support in exchange for food stamps.  This does not and should never apply to parents who are only applying or enrolled in a FSP.

Another provision that some states choose to adopt is to have a distinct child support cooperation requirement for FSP participants.  Wisconsin is currently the only state with that specific language written into the law.  According to The Department of Workforce Development (1999), if an adult food stamp applicant or recipient fails to cooperate without good cause, the individual is not eligible for food stamps.  Applicants should understand all of critical stipulations added to the federal statutes and their rights and the rights of their children when refusing to cooperate with child support enforcement is the chosen path.  During the disqualified period, the rest of the household does continue to receive assistance.  The strict child support cooperation requirement may be directly linked to the increase in child poverty in Wisconsin.  Gilman Halsted of Wisconsin Public Radio (2015) reported that there was a 5 percent increase in the number of children living in poverty from 2008-2013.  With such a significant increase in child poverty, it is the responsibility of the state legislators to ensure that food stamp cases are not deemed ineligible due to the head of household failing to cooperate with child support enforcement.  The children should remain eligible for food stamps even when the adult refuses to sue for child support.

There are a total of three states that have a distinct child support enforcement cooperation requirement and a CD clause in place.  Florida, Mississippi and Michigan all enforce sanctions, or loss of benefits, when people do not comply with suing the nonresidential parent for child support.  In West Michigan alone, one in four kids are affected by hunger, (24 Hour News 8 Web Staff, 2015).  Children are faring no better in Florida.  Recent studies show that the state has more than 3.4 million residents, including 1.1 million children, who are food insecure, (Florida Association of Food Banks, 2014).  These numbers are quite alarming. Florida could possibly experience a significant reduction if child support cooperation requirements were removed from the eligibility criteria. 

In 2013, No Kids Hungry in Mississippi reported that 27% of kids in Mississippi struggle with hunger.  The number has ballooned due to several barriers in Mississippi and in many other states across the country.  In addition to slow employment growth, TANF time limit restrictions, and the overwhelming number of ‘working poor’ Americans, there was the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill.  The conference agreement included a SNAP benefit cut which would save $8.55 billion over ten years and shrink benefits for about 850,000 households in 17 states, Congressional Budget Office or CBO (as cited by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2014).   The results have proven extremely disastrous for Mississippi.  Eleanor Goldberg of the Huffington Post (2014) wrote that inefficiencies in the way SNAP is run in Mississippi is of paramount concern.  Surely, the child support cooperation requirements are part of that concern.

Essentially, the families who are already struggling will face challenging situations because of the Farm Bill and the additional restrictions that are mandated by the state in order for a family to receive food stamps.  The average SNAP recipient in Mississippi receives about $4 a day, (Goldberg, 2014).  This bill will only prove disadvantageous to the children of the state.  Child support is supposed to assist the family so that they do not have to rely of government assistance as well as provide overall security for our children.  When the government implements and enforces mandates that force participation in the child support program in order to receive aid to purchase basic human necessities, the children will ultimately suffer.  This is apparent when observing child hunger statistics in the states that have distinct child support cooperation requirements as law and enforce CD cases for the most vulnerable families.

Finally, some states require child support cooperation when a parent (or individual) in charge of the decision making for the child(ren) applies for state funded child care.  There is no mystery that child care costs can be astronomical in the United States.    Child care prices range from about $3,583 to $18,773 a year, according to BabyCenter.com, which leaves many parents with one option-state child care assistance.  Many are faced with the tough decision of choosing whether working is economically feasible when considering child care expenses. The child support cooperation requirement is mandated in approximately 14 states for parents seeking public assistance to offset child care costs.  The states have enacted laws or policies that requires custodial parents to use the services of the states’ child support enforcement program, (Roberts, 2005). 

Texas requires child support cooperation in exchange for state subsidized child care.  The child care program is operated through The Texas Workforce Commission.  According to the Commissions’ webpage, those eligible for child care assistance include children under the age of 13 whose parents are receiving or transitioning off public assistance or whose families are low-income.  There is no specific information concerning the requirement of child support participation but it is law.  This requirement can certainly cause an unwanted and unnecessary barrier for parents seeking employment assistance and are forced to sue the other parent for child support.  Forcing parents to choose between filing a lawsuit against someone or be denied resources to needed employment assistance is a cruel way to empower these parents into becoming self-sufficient, let alone, leave to welfare system completely.

Some states, like Texas, may be vague in explaining the child support cooperation requirements in their information provided to the public, but other states pretend that the criteria relating to receiving subsidized child care include child support cooperation in its statutes.  New Mexico has recently been exposed for doing just that to applicants.  Caseworkers have been allegedly forcing survivors of domestic violence to sue for child support or be denied child care assistance.  The State of New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department or CYFD is distinct on the eligibility requirements that a person must meet in order to receive subsidized child care.  Eligibility is determined by gross monthly income and family size, (CYFD).  It is reprehensible that in November and December of 2015, the agency was accused of forcing survivors to sue for child support.  Based on a report by KRWG (2015), the OLE’ Working Parents Association had heard from dozens of women who said applications for state child care assistance came with conditions.

The conditions did not include family size or income levels but rather criteria not identified in the federal or state statutes.  The county officials were requiring domestic violence survivors to get restraining orders against their former partners and to sue abusers for child support.  These imaginary mandates could have had dangerous, or ever worse, fatal results.  This breach of ethical and legal boundaries is extremely disturbing.  Every parent in the state of New Mexico and across the nation needs to aware of the actual laws and mandates when applying for child care services.  They should know whether or not the case workers are supposed to be forcing them to comply with child support enforcement or if they are trying to increase performance measurement criteria so that the maximum amount of incentive money is paid to the state by the federal government.  After applying for child care, the parent must supply a plethora of information in order to be approved for the subsidy.  According to CYFD, the documentation needed are as follows:

  • Current proof of earned and unearned income (including child support income) for applicant and biological parent, stepparent, and/or legal guardian living in the household, if applicable

  • School schedule, if applicable, for applicant and biological parent, stepparent, and/or legal guardian living in the household (if applicable)

  • Verification of birth for all applicant children

  • Proof of residency

  • Name, address and phone number of the child care provider selected (for new registered home providers, the provider’s social security card and picture ID are needed)

    Clearly, within the guidelines and required actions and/or documentation, there is no mention of filing restraining orders or suing for child support.  The head of the New Mexico CYFD has approved the adding of a new box to child care assistance forms that parents can check off to indicate to state workers that contacting a former abuser for support would endanger families, (KRWG, 2015).  However, this extra box is not necessary because there is nothing on the actual application questioning whether child support enforcement is either wanted by parents or mandated by the government.  The caseworkers need to be retrained to understand the specific guidelines as they relate to public programs and child support cooperation requirements.  Those hired to operate the system are making it much more difficult for the most vulnerable by constructing their own rules and regulations.  This is not only illegal, it can be quite dangerous.

    In conclusion, it is detrimental to the well-being of children and to individuals that the information being delivered by local, state, and federal caseworkers is both accurate and legal.  Just as applicants can face stiff penalties, financially and with possible prison sentences, our public employees should be in jeopardy of facing such punishments when lying to their clients.  It is the mission of the state and federal governments to recover welfare costs by using the child support system.  However, people should not be denied benefits because of inflexible laws and blatant lies used in the scheme of increasing government revenues.  Our government is made up of elected officials, our employees, and as such, they must comply with the guidelines of their employee handbook just like all other employees.  Bending the truth or withholding important information that can and will hinder families from not only gaining self-sufficiency, but hinder a family from getting food, should be a crime.  It is time to force the government to follow the same rules that every person in America is expected to follow.  We must reform the child support system, but in the meantime, we have to force the representatives of the local governments to follow the law when processing all applications requesting state assistance.  The officials must be held accountable when executing the federal and state funded programs.  Our children deserve better.

    References

    24 Hour News 8 Web Staff. (2015, May 27). Go orange day to raise awareness for childhood hunger | WOODTV.com. Retrieved from http://woodtv.com/2015/03/27/go-orange-day-to-raise-awareness-for-childhood-hunger/

    Babycenter.com. (n.d.). How much you'll spend on childcare | BabyCenter. Retrieved from http://www.babycenter.com/0_how-much-youll-spend-on-childcare_1199776.bc

    Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. (2014, February 3). Summary of the 2014 farm bill nutrition title: Includes bipartisan improvements to SNAP while excluding harsh house provisions | Center on budget and policy priorities. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/research/summary-of-the-2014-farm-bill-nutrition-title-includes-bipartisan-improvements-to-snap

    Department of Workforce Development. (1999). Child support cooperation requirements (99-44). Retrieved from http://dcf.wisconsin.gov/memos/ops_memos/bwf/1999/pdf/99-044.pdf

    Florida Association of Food Banks. (n.d.). Hunger facts | Florida association of food banks. Retrieved from http://www.fafb.org/hunger-facts/hunger-facts

    Georgia Food Bank Association. (2016). Georgia food bank association | Surprising facts about hunger in georgia. Retrieved from http://georgiafoodbankassociation.org/make-a-difference/surprising-facts-about-hunger-in-georgia/

    Goldberg, E. (2014, March 27). 25 percent of people in mississippi can't afford food. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/hungriest-states_n_5028586.html

    KRWG.org. (2015, December 12). New mexico child support forms add safeguard for abuse victims | KRWG. Retrieved from http://krwg.org/post/new-mexico-child-support-forms-add-safeguard-abuse-victims

    No Kid Hungry Campaign. (2013). No kid hungry in mississippi. Retrieved from https://www.nokidhungry.org/pdfs/NoKidHungryMISSISSIPPI_June2013.pdf

    Price, R. (2014, September 4). Ohio rates among the worst states when it comes to hunger problems | The columbus dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/09/03/food-insecure-kids.html

    Roberts, P. (2005). Child support cooperation requirements and public benefits programs: An overview of issues and recommendations for change. Retrieved from Center for Law and Social Policy website: http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/files/0252.pdf

    State of New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. (n.d.). Child care assistance | CYFD. Retrieved from https://cyfd.org/child-care-services/child-care-assistance

    Survey shows more wisconsin children living in poverty | Wisconsin public radio. (2015, July 21). Retrieved from http://www.wpr.org/survey-shows-more-wisconsin-children-living-poverty

    Texas Workforce Commission. (n.d.). Child care services | Texas workforce commission. Retrieved from http://www.twc.state.tx.us/jobseekers/child-care-services

    United States Department of Agriculture. (2015, August 21). Supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) | Food and nutrition service. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap

     

     

     

 


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