There are currently 29 states that have official child support debt compromise programs as part of their child support programs. There are other states that claim that they decide on debt compromise based on individual cases and situations. Although these programs could offer some sense of relief to parents that owe large amounts of arrears, the validity of these programs actually benefiting those parents is questionable. The state of Ohio is a state that reports a fully-implemented debt compromise program that has been regulated since 2009.
According to the National Conference of State Legislation or NCSL (2014), the regulation allowed the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) to promulgate rules on the waiver and compromise of permanently assigned arrears. This relates to child support debt that is owed exclusively to the state because of the receipt of Temporary Aide for Needy Family (TANF) benefits. These debts can increase to alarmingly high amounts especially compared to the extremely low amount of money provided to the families as a welfare grant. The idea of repaying a relatively low amount of money accompanied with interest and penalty fees is commensurable to predatory lending practices.
To combat these high debts, some states implemented the debt compromise programs for the most part are too difficult for the noncustodial parent to complete. The law states that the Department developed rules that provide flexibility to local agencies in making these determinations, (NCSL, 2014). Unfortunately, the flexibility afforded the agencies does not seem to be common practice.
In fact, researching for statistics reflecting the active debt compromise programs are nonexistent. The department clearly expresses all criteria that must be met but fails to vindicate the effectiveness of the debt compromise programs. The only conclusion for the lack of positive data is that there are no parents that are benefiting from these programs.
Among the reasons that one may be permitted to request a waiver for owed arrears is by satisfying the question of whether the compromise would be in the best interest of the state of Ohio.
This should present an uncomfortable position for the states since the government emphatically maintains that its unjust practices which target parents are in the best interest of the ‘child’. Along with the promotion of paying current child support and being responsible for one’s children, the best interest of the state includes one key element that should not be ignored. According to the ODJFS, the best interest of the state of Ohio refers to the state avoiding the accrual of uncollectable debt that has a negative effect on the state of Ohio’s child support program. The negative effect is directly akin to the amount of grants and incentive payments that the state receives based on mandated performance measures.
In fact, the ODJFS clearly states in the debt compromise rules and regulations that arrears compromise must maximize receipt by the state of federal incentives based on the performance of the child support program, (ODJFS). These are but a few examples of mandated criteria that must be met before the state and the agencies will consider forgiving child support debt. The government will consider excusing the debt when, among other limited reasons, the noncustodial parent was incapacitated, unemployed, underemployed, or incarcerated which prevented a modification request. The list goes on and on and the reason for the lack of data on any success of the debt compromise programs is that none exists.
The ethical thing to do is to provide some relief when income does not meet the debt amount. However, the government refuses to mandate that the states pass that relief on to the parents. It does not benefit parents as a whole to have these debt compromise programs in place but fail to utilize them in an meaningful way. As long as debt compromise programs are mere options for states, parents will continue to be indebted to the government.
National Conference of State Legislation. (n.d.). State Child Support Agencies with Debt Compromise Policies. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/state-child-support-debt-compromise-policies.aspx
Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2011, September). State Child Support Agencies With Debt Compromise Policies | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/state-child-support-agencies-with-debt-compromise-policies-map