CHN: Bills Introduced to Restore Child Support Funding

Child support enforcement officials collected $23 billion for more than 17 million children in 2005, up 92 percent since 1996.  Despite this success, Congress cut child support enforcement in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act.  According to a preliminary Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate, the cut will cost enforcement operations $6.7 billion over ten years.  As a result, at least $11 billion in support owed to children will go uncollected.
The cut in enforcement dollars is scheduled to take effect next October.  To stave off this loss before it takes place, bipartisan groups of House and Senate members have filed the Child Support Protection Act of 2007, legislation to restore the funding.  Both bills were filed on March 7.  On the House side, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) is the chief sponsor of H.R. 1386, co-sponsored by 20 other representatives, including one Republican (Steven LaTourette, R-OH).  In the Senate, Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) is sponsoring S. 803, with 8 additional co-sponsors, including three Republicans (Coleman, R-MN, Cornyn, R-TX, and Snowe, R-ME).

The legislation repeals Section 7309 of the Deficit Reduction Act.  That provision reduces funding to states by ending matching funds that states could receive from the federal government if they were awarded incentive payments for good enforcement performance.  The effect of the match is to provide a greater reward for states’ investment in good outcomes.  It has worked, as demonstrated by the improvement in child support collections over the past decade.  Now continued progress is threatened, as states are figuring out how to manage with billions fewer federal dollars.  Ohio, for example, is planning to cut its enforcement staff by 25 percent.  Some states are expected to replace at least some of the federal funds with state money.  But the estimated $11 billion in uncollected child support already assumes that states will make up half the loss of federal funding; if states do not replace that much, the losses to families will be even worse.

The legislation has been referred to the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees.  Because child support enforcement is an entitlement program (not needing annual appropriations), restoring funds must be paid for, either through cost savings in other programs or through revenue increases.   Finding a way to pay for the restoration of funding is the biggest roadblock the legislation faces, since any number of programs are competing for limited sources of funding.  The chances for success in restoring child support funding are improved by the active role of a number of state officials in making the case for preventing these cuts.  They are joined by an increasing number of advocates who recognize that child support helps to bring one million children out of poverty every year.

Social Services