Child support is a critical source of income for millions of children in the US. After Medicaid, child support reaches more children than any other federally-funded program. According to the Center for American Progress, in households with incomes below the poverty line who receive child support, these payments often account for more than half of their income.

For children living below the poverty line, these payments go towards a child’s everyday needs – from the roof over their head, to a warm coat in the winter. It can mean the difference as to whether a child gets to participate in extracurricular activities or get to go on a school trip.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), child support agencies collected $32 billion in FY2014 and 95 percent of this money went to families. OCSE provides many services for children and families who qualify, including the establishment and collection of child support orders, paternity establishment, and distribution of child support payments.

Despite the successes of the child support enforcement program, too many children still do not receive critical support income because noncustodial parents fall behind on their payments, often due to lack of employment opportunities. Research from the Urban Institute shows that most of the child support owed is by noncustodial parents with very low or no reported income.

In addition, millions of men of color are incarcerated or with criminal records due to an unfair justice system, making it difficult for them to earn enough to comply with child support orders.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support Enforcement issued a proposed rule last fall to update and improve many aspects of the child support system. Many of these proposed changes aim to address these barriers that noncustodial parents face in complying with child support orders.

Some of these proposed changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Requiring states to consider noncustodial parents’ actual earnings and income in establishing orders in order to set more realistic child support orders.
  • Prohibiting the treatment of incarceration as “voluntary unemployment.” While noncustodial parents are incarcerated, they do not have the capacity to comply with child support orders so large arrearages often accumulate. This practice does not result in any more child support being collected, and the large arrearages make it more difficult for a non-custodial parent to gain employment and comply with the support order upon being released.
  • Allowing OSCE to utilize federal child support funds for job services for noncustodial parents. Programs that assist noncustodial parents in accessing available jobs or gain skills and training will help them to increase earnings and comply with orders.
  • Including visitation provisions in child support orders. This allows noncustodial parents the opportunity for involvement in their children’s lives as well as allows OSCE to use funds towards educational resources for noncustodial on responsible parenting and managing family finances.

Despite the positive implications of this rule change for children, members of Congress including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch recently introduced legislation to block this rule from being finalized or implemented.

First Focus Campaign for Children applauds the Administration’s efforts to improve the child support system and remove barriers for noncustodial parents who are trying to comply with child support orders but are unable to do so through no fault of their own. This proposed changes address the reality that punishing noncustodial parents does not lead to increased payments, and also punishes children in the process.

We urge Congress to support the finalization and implementation of this proposed rule so that more children can receive critical income to improve their health, education, and overall well-being.

For additional detail of these proposed changes, see the comments to this proposed rule submitted by our colleagues at CLASP.

Note to #Congress: Support, Don’t Block, New #ChildSupport Rule via @First_Focus Voices for Kids Blog

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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on poverty & family economics.

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