In an effort to combat alleged abuses to the welfare system, the U.S. government launched a welfare recovery system. The system, known today as the Child Support Enforcement Agency, was revamped in 1998 courtesy of former President Bill Clinton. According to CNN.com (1998), the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act entails felony punishment for a parent who moves to another state, or country, with the intention of evading child support payments. The law was transparent in its meaning and purpose when implemented. The punishments were made clear as well.
If a debt remained unpaid for over a year, or was greater than $5,000, punishments of a possible prison sentence and fines would be imposed on the guilty parent. No matter where you find the law written, it is clear that a parent must willfully fail to pay child support as opposed to being unable to pay child support because of financial hardship. There are several points made by government officials which specified the intentions of the reformed child support program and the new law shortly after the re-introduction of the program. For example, the reintroduced child support program was created to combat the rising number of families relying on the former welfare system.
According to the testimony given by John Monahan, the former Principal Deputy Assistance Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families (1998), child support is an essential part of welfare reform because it sends a message of responsibility to both parents. There, of course, are not many arguments against parental responsibility. However, it becomes a problem when government programs shifts its responsibility to care for the less fortunate onto other low-income people. These programs are supposed to provide a safety net for a family that is struggling to provide basic needs for their children and themselves.
The child support system and the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act essentially made it a crime to be too disadvantaged to provide those basic needs. By the agencies own admission, child support helps to ensure that single parent families and their children do not need to rely on welfare in the first place, (Manahan, 1998). By transferring the burden from the government to the parents, the system failed to provide cash, food stamps, and medical insurance for those families without providing the necessary tools for those parents to become self-sufficient. Strict restrictions, including signing over the rights to future child support payments, forced needy parents off of the welfare system and placed that responsibility onto the noncustodial parents.
Theoretically, the burden should be applied to those parents, but reality changes the dynamic when both parents are disadvantaged. Based on the report by The Department of Health and Human Services (1998), there are many low-income noncustodial parents who want to do right, but who do not earn enough to meet their child support responsibilities. This means that these low-income parents are not willfully failing to provide for their children and therefore are not breaking any law. Since this information was known and reported over two decades ago, low-income parents should not be labeled deadbeats.
Most circumstances are not appropriately represented by the law and neither are a large majority of parents. Deadbeats, by law, are those that evade child support responsibilities and willfully fail to support their children. That is vastly different than being a low-income parent and simply being to poor to meet the obligations. The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act may have been implemented with the best of intentions, but those intentions have been lost in recent years.
States and counties love flooding internet articles and newspaper headlines advertising “Deadbeat” roundups all across the country. Poor parents are not necessarily deadbeats and the government should stop labeling any parents delinquent on child support payments with such a derogatory term. Our elected officials and those hired to carry out the law should be expected to acknowledge the distinction between dead broke parents and deadbeat parents. Dead broke should never automatically mean deadbeat. The welfare-to-work programs that were initially offered when the welfare and child support programs were implemented, needs to be used today.
The extremely exaggerated arrears amounts be erased and the grant money that states use when performance measures are met or exceeded should be reinvested into job programs so that parents will be able to find long-term employment. These programs will be extremely beneficial to the children and the families and will truly assist with the goal of self-sufficiency. By employing such programs, the government can pursue and prosecute the real ‘deadbeats’. Those are the parents that have the means to support the children but willfully fail to provide any support. The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act and the child support system are just more examples of government borne programs that have waged war against the low-income and poor parents of America.
CNN. (1998, June 24). Clinton Signs Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act – June 24, 1998. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/06/24/deadbeat.parents.bill/
Department of Health and Human Services. (1998, January 29). Child Support Enforcement Systems Penalties. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/t980129b.html