Fact of the Week: Nearly One in Four Children in the U.S. is Served by the Federal Child Support Program


May 20, 2015

In Idaho, the proportion of children relying on Child Support Services is even higher – 28 percent. Many in the state learned that the hard way this week, as Idaho’s state legislature held an unusual special session to take up legislation to prevent the state from losing access to federal child support collection resources.

Why did Governor Otter have to call this special session? Because the legislature failed to pass child support legislation required by federal law before it ended its regular session in April. If the state did not reverse its decision, it would be out of compliance with requirements for participating in the federal child support system. That would mean the 102,100 custodial parents and 155,000 children in Idaho using the federal system to collect the support owed would lose that help. In 2014, participation in the federal child support program resulted in $193.5 million going to Idaho families with children.

All states must enact legislation in connection with U.S. ratification of an international treaty expanding the number of countries that will recognize and enforce U.S. child support orders. The U.S. already provides child support services to parents in other countries with support orders; the new treaty will require other countries to do the same for U.S. parents and children seeking support from noncustodial parents residing outside the U.S. In Idaho, the legislature initially rejected the bill before them because it was feared Idaho would have to obey support orders from countries operating in ways inconsistent with Idaho’s laws. There was talk of sharia law (the legal system based on Islamic holy texts) and undermining U.S. sovereignty. However, there is no requirement that a state enforce a support order if it is “manifestly incompatible with public policy, including the failure of the issuing tribunal to observe minimum standards of due process…”

To satisfy enough critics to pass the bill, the special session took up amended legislation to further clarify Idaho’s rights and its families’ protections. U.S. Senator Crapo (R-ID), after initially voicing support for the opponents, made clear that he did not oppose the bill, and does support coordinated enforcement, “both domestic and international.” Enough state legislators changed their position to turn the vote around: the committee that had tabled the bill before the earlier end of session switched to voting for it 12–5, and strong majorities in the state House and Senate followed suit to enact the bill on May 18.

So, whew. The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence was relieved. Among the many organizations appearing before an Idaho legislative committee about the bill, they testified about how important it is that women who have experienced domestic violence can avoid direct contact with their abusive former partners while child support officials intercede on their children’s behalf. They joined the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund and the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger in support of the bill, all recognizing how important child support is in alleviating hardship. As the national data show, child support lifted one million people out of poverty in 2012. When poor families receive support, it makes up nearly half their income. Without it, as people in Idaho came to realize, children and families would be much, much worse off. (Another cause for relief: for states to receive federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding, they must participate in the federal child support system. Idaho would have lost TANF funds for its poorest families too if it rejected the child support bill.)

So far, about 21 states have passed the required legislation, with no indication that others will object. For more information, see this from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.

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