Child Support Reduces Poverty, Congress Should Adequately Fund the Program

Sep 21, 2010

By Jenice R. Robinson and Crystal Canales

A few days ago, the U.S. Census released data that revealed a record number of people living in poverty-43.6 million-in 2009, and the highest national poverty rate in 16 years. Given the state of the economy last year, this significant increase is not surprising.

"We cannot just accept rising poverty as a fact of life and a natural ramification of a faltering economy," said Alan W. Houseman, executive director of CLASP. "Instead, we must examine policy solutions that work and can readily address and alleviate poverty."

Children, the most vulnerable among us, have the highest poverty rate. More than 20 percent of all children are poor, and one in four children under five is poor.  Child support enforcement, a highly effective federal program, keeps children out of poverty.  However, critical funding for this program is at risk if Congress doesn't act by Sept. 30. Failure to act would be a mistake.

Recent data from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) demonstrate that the child support program reduces child poverty. The CRS report states: "For children living in families receiving child support, child support can markedly reduce their chances of being poor. Overall, of the 8.1 million children in families that receive child support, 2.5 million (30.6 percent)would be counted as poor absent the child support their families receive; child support reduces the number of poor children in these families to 1.9 million and their poverty rate falls to 23.1 percent." This is a nearly 25 percent reduction.

But the good that this program does is at risk. Federal incentive match funding, which provides a federal match on incentive payments for states to earn and reinvest in the child support program expires on Sept. 30. Without this provision, states will lose an average 16 percent of their child support funding. Because of service cuts, families will lose over $2 billion in child support payments in FY 2011, based on estimates from OCSE and the Congressional Budget Office.

Eliminating this funding is counterproductive. The child support program is highly cost effective. For every public dollar spent, the child support program collects $4.78. About 17.4 million children - a fourth of the nation's children -- participate in the child support program.  In fiscal year 2009, $26.4 billion was collected from non-custodial parents and of that, 24.4 billion was distributed directly to families.

"All children deserve to receive financial support from their parents," Houseman said. "The child support program helps to ensure kids get these funds. And it reduces poverty among low-income parents. Given what we know about poverty, especially among young children, we must ensure we keep in place demonstrated policies that can help reduce poverty.

"Lawmakers should extend federal support for the child support program to ensure more of the nation's children continue to receive the financial support they deserve from their parents," Houseman added.

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