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Child Support Awareness Month: Why Helping 'Deadbeat Dads' Is Part of the Solution

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

As part of our coverage of Child Support Awareness Month, a piece last week focused on a new Treasury Department rule that illustrates the challenges child support enforcement can pose to impoverished non-custodial parents, most of whom are fathers. This week we highlight small programs throughout the country attempting to address the heart of the matter: improving the financial status of poor fathers.

Enforcement of child support orders has been viewed as part of larger systematic efforts that, as author Barbara Ehrenreich sees it, "rob the poor." In her May essay for TomDispatch.com, Ehrenreich points out that about half of child support debt is owed to state governments as reimbursement for welfare payments that have already been paid to children. She argues that, just as private lenders prey on the poor, public sector entities view collecting debt from poor fathers as a juicy tactic to raise revenue for the state. A new Treasury Department rule that could deplete the social security and veterans' benefits of child support debtors is a proof point of Ehrenreich's thesis.

Tough enforcement is generally accepted because the concept of a "deadbeat dad" is a fiercely negative one, particularly among those who know all too well the tough hand dealt to single mothers. So public programs that attempt to aid child support debtors-- the majority of whom are fathers--are not always popular. Consider a program in Spokane, WA where Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP), a nonprofit focused on poverty alleviation, is collaborating with local child support agencies. SNAP offers a range of financial support services for non-custodial fathers who have failed to comply with child support orders.

 

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