Giving Noncustodial Dads the Supports They Need to Thrive and Contribute

By Darrel Thompson

A statesman once said that “fatherhood is not a matter of station or wealth.” Yet for those who lack station and wealth, the truth could not be any further. 

Many fathers struggle daily to support their families’ basic needs, and that of their own. Benefits from social welfare programs that help alleviate poverty, promote responsible parenting, and undergird healthy families are often unavailable to noncustodial fathers, due in part to antiquated stereotypes and outdated assumptions about "deadbeat" dads. 

Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and André Carson (D-IN) have introduced H.R. 3465, the Julia Carson Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2017, to increase low-income noncustodial parents’ access to job services and income supports.

Many noncustodial parents contribute financially to their families through formal or informal child support. But a large number of parents—particularly Black parents—face barriers in making payments consistently and at the amounts required. Constrained by unemployment, underemployment, housing instability, and incarceration, noncustodial fathers often find themselves without viable pathways into jobs with livable wages that allow them to meet their families’ needs. H.R. 3465 builds on an Obama-era regulatory proposal that would allow states to draw funding from the Office of Child Support Enforcement to offer job services to noncustodial parents, such as high school diploma or GED completion assistance, certificate programs, job placement services, job search assistance, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment. Such services would equip noncustodial parents with the education, skills, and resources necessary to succeed in a competitive workforce. 

Even when noncustodial parents are employed, their wages may fall short of allowing them to support their families and themselves. The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a proven work support that provides additional income, encourages workforce participation, and lifts millions out of poverty. However, the EITC considers noncustodial parents to be “childless” workers—regardless of parental involvement—and offers a credit too small to offset their tax liability, essentially taxing them into poverty. At present, the maximum EITC for childless workers is $500; however, they receive just $280 on average—less than one-tenth the average $3,100 for custodial parents. Increasing the EITC can do much to assist fathers with low wages and better position them to fulfill their obligations. And H.R. 3465 would do just that by increasing the maximum credit for childless workers to 20 percent of earnings; increasing the EITC phaseout income from $5,280 to $11,500; expanding the eligibility age band from 25 to 21 on the low end and from 65 to 68 on the high end; and extending the credit to former foster youth at age 18. Passing such reforms can bolster the effect of the EITC on improving health outcomes, galvanizing educational success in children, encouraging asset building and savings, and increasing child support payments.

If Congress is serious about encouraging self-sufficiency and promoting work, then it will pass H.R. 3465 as a reasonable step toward ensuring noncustodial fathers have the critical resources and supports they need to meet their commitments and contribute more ably to their families.