Bringing Fathers Back In: The Child Support Assurance Strategy

During the past decade, a new strategy has begun to unfold for dealing with poverty and dependency among single parents in America. At first only an idea among researchers, it has now gained significant political support. Key elements of the approach have been adopted by Congress and are being tested in two states, Wisconsin and New York. The new approach goes by the name Child Support Assurance, and if adopted in its entirety it promises to transform the politics of welfare and to bring about significant reductions in the high poverty rates that afflict America's children.

Demographers tell us that before children in this generation reach adulthood, more than half of them will live in a family headed by a single parent, usually their mother. Today, nearly half of children in single-parent families are poor, and even the more fortunate often suffer from the insecurity and sudden losses of income -- averaging 50 percent -- that follow divorce. These problems have lifelong consequences. Insecurity and poverty in childhood, many studies have shown, are directly related to low productivity and high rates of welfare dependency in adulthood.

Our Social Security system does little to reduce this virulent form of insecurity. One of its programs, Survivors Insurance, provides significant economic help to widows and their children, but welfare is the only protection afforded to children living with other single women. In 1935, when the Social Security Act was passed, most single mothers were widows and were not expected to work for pay. Now, however, most single mothers are divorced or separated, or were never married at all. Because most married mothers now work, single mothers are also expected to seek paid employment. But welfare is not well designed to help them achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.

Welfare provides aid only to those who have fallen into poverty. It does nothing to prevent them from becoming poor. Because it is a substitute for earnings, not a supplement, welfare cannot help make work more attractive than dependency. Indeed, the rules governing eligibility and payment levels discourage work and remarriage. Moreover, the welfare system isolates recipients from the social mainstream by funneling them through a separate bureaucracy; and by stigmatizing and separating them from the larger society, it promotes political division. Welfare also provides no help whatsoever to the millions of single mothers and children who are economically insecure, but not abjectly impoverished.

A child support assurance system -- or as David Ellwood, the author of Poor Support, likes to call it, a child support enforcement and insurance system -- attempts to remedy many of these problems. It is a system for providing income support to single parents that does not discourage them from taking paid employment. Because it obtains most of this income from parents not living with their children, its costs to the public treasury are relatively limited. And because it is a universal system -- covering middle- as well as low-income single parents -- it does not isolate or stigmatize the poor. Unlike welfare, it also provides help to many single parents who are economically distressed but not destitute.

Child Support Assurance would apply only to children who are legally entitled to receive private child support from a parent, usually the father, not living at home. The system has three key elements:

  • Child support owed by a nonresident parent is set as a percentage of his or her income. The percentage would increase with the number of children owed support.
  • Support payments are automatically withheld. Like income and Social Security taxes, child support obligation would come directly out of the nonresident parent's paycheck and other sources of income.
  • A minimum benefit is assured. The child's caretaker would receive either what the nonresident parent pays or an assured minimum child support benefit, whichever is higher. When nonresident parents pay less than the assured level, the government makes up the difference.

    The guiding principle of Child Support Assurance is that parents should support their children. It is the government's role to see that parents fulfill this responsibility and that children receive support their parents must provide. The assured benefit ensures that in no month will the child support payment fall below some minimum amount. The assured benefit is not meant to be a welfare program, much less a universal subsidy for children. It is meant to be a form of insurance, which, when needed, provides a small income supplement to families with child support awards. As such, its cost to taxpayers is small.

    * * *

    The combined provisions of Child Support Assurance -- enforcing parental obligations more strictly but assuring single parents a minimum benefit -- attempt to answer legitimate concerns about both welfare dependency and the economic security of single mothers. If welfare dependency is of no concern, it is easy to increase economic security. Just make welfare benefits more generous. That is exactly what we did between 1955 and 1975 and not surprisingly the proportion of single mothers dependent on welfare went from below 40 percent to over 60 percent.

    Conversely, if the economic security of single mothers and their children is of no concern, it is easy to reduce welfare rolls. Just cut benefits. That is what we have done since 1975, as welfare rolls have dropped from over 60 percent to about 45 percent of single mothers. What the nation needs now are policies that simultaneously reduce insecurity and dependency. That is why Child Support Assurance is so attractive.

    Child Support Assurance is patterned after Survivors Insurance. Like Survivors Insurance, Child Support Assurance aids children of all income classes who suffer an income loss due to the absence of a parent. The cause of the absence differs, of course. Survivors Insurance compensates for the loss of income arising from widowhood. Child Support Assurance compensates for the loss arising from divorce, separation, and abandonment prior to marriage. If the architects of the Social Security Act of 1935 could invent a social institution that assured children support by their deceased parents, surely we can invent a social institution to assure that children are supported by their living parents.

    Child Support Assurance differs from social insurance in one respect. In social insurance programs, contributions typically take place before the event triggering the insurance. In Child Support Assurance, the nonresident parent pays child support only after becoming a nonresident parent. That is why its advocates in Wisconsin chose the name "assurance" rather than "insurance."

    The Traditional System
    Like many other liberals, I used to think of child support enforcement mainly as a form of harassment of welfare mothers. Since the fathers of poor children on welfare were themselves poor, they did not seem a promising source of new money. As the saying goes, "You can't get blood from a stone." This was the view of most researchers and policy makers concerned about poverty until the 1970s. But since then, my beliefs have changed, as has the consensus underlying research and policy. In 1974, primarily due to Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, Congress narrowly approved amendments to the Social Security Act creating a federal office of child support enforcement. By coincidence, I was about to become the director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin when federal officials charged with carrying out the new policy were searching for fresh research on child support. The research that we undertook, particularly a study by Judith Cassetty later published as The Child Support Obligation, led me to an entirely new view of the problem.

    Before 1975 child support was almost exclusively a state and local matter. State laws established the duty of nonresident parents to pay child support but left all the details up to local courts. Judges decided whether the nonresident parent would pay any child support and, if so, how much. They also decided what to do if the nonresident parent failed to pay.

    The traditional child support system -- still largely in existence -- has condoned and fostered parental irresponsibility. Only six of ten mothers potentially eligible for child support from nonresident fathers have received court awards. Among mothers receiving awards, only about half have actually received the full amount of money to which they are entitled, and over a quarter have received nothing. The abysmal record of nonresident fathers has not been due primarily to their inability to pay support. In 1983, according to commonly used guidelines, nonresident fathers could have afforded -- and should have been paying -- between $24 billion and $30 billion, whereas they owed only $10 billion and paid only $7 billion.

    The system has also been rife with inequity. Child support awards have varied widely even in similar economic circumstances. While most nonresident fathers have paid no child support and suffered no penalty thousands of others have been sent to jail. Poor fathers under court order to pay child support have been required to pay a substantially higher proportion of their incomes than have middle- and upper-income fathers.

    Critics of this system have called for many specific reforms. At the heart of reform proposals is an effort to replace judicial discretion with the administrative regularity characteristic of the Social Security and income tax systems. This principle is most fully expressed in the proposal to add Child Support Assurance to our repertoire of Social Security programs.

    The Child Support Alternative
    The advantages of Child Support Assurance over the traditional system become apparent if we look at each key element of the program.

    Support based on income. Setting child support obligations as a percentage of the nonresident parent's income accomplishes several goals simultaneously. First, using a simple, numerical formula for child support reduces inequities and improves understanding of the system. Second, as the nonresident parent's income rises, his or her obligations automatically increase; this linkage effectively indexes child support awards to inflation, offering better protection than welfare programs usually afford.

    Third, when the earnings of a nonresident parent decrease due to unemployment or illness, child support obligations automatically drop. Yet while the nonresident parent can thereby better cope with such reverses, the caretaking parent is partly protected by the minimum assured benefit. Over time, the incomes of most nonresident parents increase. Establishing child support awards as a percentage of their income will, therefore, lead to increased payments to most children, while providing greater fairness to nonresident parents who become ill or lose their jobs.

    Income withholding. Routine income withholding increases both the size and timeliness of child support payments. Nonresident parents who have defaulted for a few months may have spent the money for other purposes and often cannot afford to pay back the accumulated debt. During the early 1980s, Wisconsin required withholding of child support only in cases of delinquency; under that system, 70 percent of nonresident parents became delinquent within three years. An evaluation of Wisconsin's recently implemented system of routine withholding found that it resulted in an increase of 10 to 30 percent in child support payments.

    No society profits by making parents into lawbreakers. Routine withholding is a preventive measure that removes stigma and punishment from the collection process, while enhancing children's economic security.

    Assured benefits. The crucial financial role of government is to make up the difference in child support when nonresident parents pay less than the assured benefit level. The assured benefit, which would last until a child turns nineteen years of age, insures all children legally entitled to private child support against the risk that their nonresident parent will fail to pay. Sudden declines in the nonresident parent's income now frequently result in a precipitous decline in child support. An assured benefit would cushion this fall.

    This assured benefit would not simply be for the poor. Indeed, it would help single parents with low earnings and little child support to escape poverty. Without an assured benefit, many mothers now on welfare would still be poor even if they worked full time and received all the private child support to which they were entitled under current law. An assured benefit provides a more ample and secure base of child support that can be combined with a job to make life off welfare far more tolerable.

    The assured benefit would not encourage those on welfare to remain dependent. Single parents on welfare would have their welfare benefits reduced by one dollar for each dollar of the assured benefit. The assured child support, however, would not be reduced by any income earned by the resident parent. Thus parents on welfare could take advantage of the assured benefit only if they left welfare and went to work.

    Can Poor Fathers Really Help?
    But what about the original objection, "You can't get blood from a stone"? To say, as I have, that nonresident fathers as a whole can afford to pay $15 billion to $21 billion more in child support still leaves open the question of what to do about those fathers who are poor.

    First, it is important to recall that Child Support Assurance is concerned with providing support to children up through age eighteen. A twenty-year-old father incapable of providing much support at the time of his child's birth may be earning a decent living five or ten years later. Establishing paternity at the outset and maintaining support obligations, even if low, ultimately will generate significant private resources for single mothers and their children.

    In addition, Child Support Assurance sends a clear message about parental responsibility. If a father is excused from contributing, he gets the message that he has nothing of value to share with his child. If he is required to contribute, he gets the message that no matter how little he has, he still has something worthwhile to offer his child. The requirement of some sharing, therefore, treats the father with greater respect and gets more resources to the child.

    We expect all fathers who live with their children to share their earnings with their families, however little those earnings may be. Resident fathers who fail to do so are guilty of child neglect. In such cases, the state has the legal right to take their children away from them. Why, then, should fathers who live apart from their children be entirely excused of any obligation to share with their children?

    To grant that poor nonresident parents should share at least some of their income with their children does not imply that the sharing rate should be the same as for more well-to-do parents. Whether the sharing rates for poor nonresident parents should be lower is a complex question. I have advocated a proportional rate because it is simple, intuitively equitable, and more progressive than the current system.

    As a general principle, I favor helping poor nonresident fathers, not by letting them off lightly when it comes to supporting their children, but through programs that improve their ability to earn higher wages. These men need better work and training opportunities; they do not need to be exempted from the normal obligations that responsible parents bear.

    Progress and Setbacks
    The appeal of Child Support Assurance as a way of reducing welfare dependency and increasing economic security spread during the past decade, beginning in a state long known as a pioneer in social insurance -- Wisconsin.

    In 1980, under contract with the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services, several colleagues and I drew up a detailed design, including projected costs, for a statewide Child Support Assurance System. For the next few years we worked closely with state officials in Wisconsin refining the plan and gaining political support, which was initially bipartisan. In 1983 Wisconsin became the first state to start testing elements of Child Support Assurance, and the program we devised has become the model for national reform.

    Yet, concerned about costs, Wisconsin implemented the system slowly, and whether it will adopt the program in its entirety is unclear. By late 1987 the state had two of the three key elements in place. It began automatic income withholding from nonresident parents, and it changed the method for calculating child support obligations to the percentage-of-income standard. In 1986, however, the third key element -- the assured benefit to poor parents -- became a partisan issue with the opposition of a new Republican governor, Tommy Thompson. It now seems unlikely that Wisconsin will test an assured benefit, at least as long as Governor Thompson remains in office.

    * * *

    Nationally, in the past seven years, judicial discretion has begun to give way to administrative regularity in child support. In two key legislative steps, Congress has pushed the states toward adopting the income guidelines and routine withholding that Child Sup port Assurance entails. The Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984 required states to adopt numerical guidelines for child support that courts could use to determine parental obligations. The amendments also required the states to withhold child support obligations from wages and other income of nonresident parents who become one month delinquent in child support payments.

    The 1988 Family Support Act strengthened these provisions. While the 1984 amendments allowed the courts to ignore the guidelines, the 1988 legislation made the guidelines the presumptive child support award. Judges may depart from the guidelines only if they give a written justification that a higher court can review. The 1988 law also requires routine withholding of child support payments as of 1994.

    Although no state yet provides an assured child support benefit, Congress has encouraged experimentation with the idea. In 1988 New York received a waiver similar to one earlier given Wisconsin to use federal welfare funds to test an assured child support benefit. New York is currently conducting that test. In its final report last year, the National Commission on Children, chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller, unanimously recommended that the states be encouraged to experiment with an assured child support benefit.

    Costs and Benefits
    The first questions that policy makers ask about Child Support Assurance are "How much will it cost?" and "What are the benefits?" To answer those questions, my colleagues and I developed a micro-simulation model, a standard method for projecting the effects of social and economic programs. To measure the benefits of Child Support Assurance, we estimated how much a program would reduce welfare caseloads and the "poverty gap." The poverty gap is the difference between a poor famih/s income and the poverty line.

    Of course, both benefits and costs depend on the level of the assured benefit, guidelines for child support awards, and the effectiveness of child support collections. Using different assumptions, we developed several alternative scenarios for what would happen if Child Support Assurance were fully or partially implemented, with assured benefits that varied from zero to $3,000.

    We assumed, under the most optimistic scenario, that child support collection from nonresident parents would be 100 percent effective. Under these conditions, the reductions in the poverty gap for families eligible for child support are substantial. Even with no assured benefit, improved child support collections would reduce the poverty gap by nearly one quarter. Adding an assured benefit of $3,000 for the first child nearly doubles the reduction in poverty. Reductions in welfare caseloads would also be large. A $3,000 assured benefit would cut the welfare caseload nearly in half; a $2,000 benefit would reduce it by one-third. Perhaps most notably, all except the most generous assured benefit would result in net public savings. These savings are due to increased private child support collections (that is, from nonresident parents) and consequent reductions in welfare expenditures, which more than offset the extra dollars paid out for the guaranteed minimum benefit.

    Because these estimates presume a perfect child support collection system, they identify an upper limit on the benefits of Child Support Assurance. As of 1991, the collection system is a long way from perfection. Enactment of recent federal legislation will surely increase the number and amount of child support awards and raise actual payments, but we do not know now how quickly these improvements will come or how large they will be.

    In a second scenario, we assumed enactment of an assured benefit but no improvement in private child support. Not surprisingly, on these assumptions short-run benefits would be modest. A $2,000 assured benefit would reduce the poverty gap by only 5 percent and welfare caseloads by just 8 percent. Even an assured benefit of $3,000 for the first child reduces the poverty gap by only 9 percent and welfare caseloads by only 14 percent. The assured benefit would have net costs in the short run at all levels. Recall, however, that because private child support payments are expected to increase, these assumptions tend to understate benefits and overstate costs.

    In a third scenario, we assumed that both award rates and collection rates would be halfway between current levels and those we envision as a goal or standard. Under this scenario, the benefits are fairly large. An assured benefit of $2,000 reduces both the poverty gap and welfare caseloads by about one-fifth, while an assured benefit of $3,000 cuts the poverty gap by one quarter and welfare caseloads by one-third. Moreover, the governmental costs are small.

    We designed Child Support Assurance so that the entire package would be revenue neutral when fully implemented -- that is, when the guidelines for awards, routine withholding, and assured benefit are put fully into effect. Looked at separately, the assured benefit costs money, while the other two components are money savers. As a result of the recent federal legislation, the money-saving components will be largely in place in most states within the next few years. The separation of the assured benefit from the other two components should not, however, create the impression that the assured benefit is a costly program of its own. It is part of a new system of child support that can reduce child poverty and welfare dependence only if all its three elements are adopted.

    The short-run benefits of Child Support Assurance will necessarily be small because relatively few children in single-parent households will benefit until improvements are made in the establishment of paternity. The short-run costs, although still not very high, are higher than they will ultimately be once child support enforcement practices become well established. Fortunately, as a result of the 1984 and 1988 legislation, the nation is well on its way to improving those enforcement practices. In any event, even in the short run, a nationwide $1,000 assured benefit would cost only $500 million. In the long run, Child Support Assurance can substantially reduce both poverty and welfare dependency at no additional governmental cost.

    Although these estimates of the impact of a new child support assurance system are encouraging, they also highlight its limitations. Even if the private child support system ultimately worked to perfection, the simulations indicate that 60 percent of the poverty gap and over half of the welfare caseload would remain. As an antipoverty program, Child Support Assurance is not a panacea. Other policies are needed to complement it.

    Will Child Support Assurance Do Unintended Harm?
    Some critics, mindful of the perverse effects of past antipoverty policies, worry that Child Support Assurance will aggravate current social pathologies. They are particularly concerned that it might increase out-of-wedlock births and family breakup.

    Child Support Assurance creates two opposing effects on potential parents of out-of-wedlock children. On the one hand, by providing a more certain, less stigmatized source of income for single parents, Child Support Assurance does ease the difficulties of raising children alone, and that could lead to more out-of-wedlock births and divorces. On the other hand, stricter enforcement of child support raises costs for a nonresident parent and could thereby discourage out-of-wedlock births and divorces. Which effect will predominate is impossible to predict a priori.

    The available evidence suggests that higher out-of-wedlock birth rates are unlikely. Empirical studies of welfare in this country and child allowances abroad have failed to demonstrate any effect of these programs on birth rates. Thus increased child support is unlikely to induce prospective mothers to have more babies. On the other hand, as word gets around that nonresident fathers must share their incomes with their children for eighteen years, young men might take more precautions to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

    Will an assured benefit lead to more family breakdown? The benefit might create an incentive for some parents to separate, or to feign separation, to realize the assured minimum benefit level. Of course, the higher the guarantee, the greater the incentive. Welfare has the same drawback. Although the impact of welfare on family cohesion is hotly disputed, empirical studies have found only slight effects. There is no reason to believe that the effects of a modest assured benefit would be any larger. Moreover, the enforcement efforts against nonresident parents reduce the incentive to split up by making the nonresident parent cover more of the cost of supporting his child.

    Where Have All the Fathers Gone?
    Yet another objection to Child Support Assurance is that for children born out of wedlock, we often simply do not know who the fathers are. And without knowing who they are, we cannot get them to contribute to their children's support.

    Routine procedures for establishing and recording paternity at birth are critical for the success of Child Support Assurance. In the United States as a whole, state offices of child support now establish paternity for about 30 percent of out-of-wedlock births, which is 50 percent higher than a decade ago. In general, the process is initiated only after a mother applies for welfare, often long after the birth. Sweden establishes paternity for over 90 percent of children born out of wedlock by assigning the job to hospitals. The state of Washington has recently adopted a similar approach. Michigan already establishes paternity for about two-thirds of out-of-wedlock children.

    The establishment of paternity is closely related to the adoption of an assured child support benefit. The assured benefit is an incentive for a mother to cooperate in identifying the father of her child because she cannot get the minimum benefit unless she is legally entitled to private child support. Legal entitlement to child support depends in turn upon the identification of a liable nonresident parent.

    Conversely, only if the mothers of children bom out of wedlock identify the fathers will the assured benefit have its full impact on economic insecurity and welfare dependency. As leaders of low-income communities come to understand the connection, their attitudes toward establishing paternity and enforcing child support should change.

    * * *

    Historically, advocates for the poor have understandably not had much enthusiasm for child support enforcement, which under the present welfare system amounts to Robin-Hood-in-reverse economics: It takes income from poor fathers to reduce welfare costs and ease the burden of more affluent taxpayers. Of course, if one believes as I do that poor fathers should be paying child support, enforcement is hardly equivalent to stealing. Nevertheless, strengthening enforcement does effectively shift income from the poor to those who are not poor.

    An assured benefit offsets that effect. It reinvests welfare savings in poor families, provided that single mothers establish paternity and thereby secure an entitlement to child support that enables them to work. We ought surely to be concerned about poor fathers who have trouble supporting their children, but the right way to express that concern is to help them increase their earnings.

    If we are going to have an assured benefit, some argue that it ought to be available to all children from single-parent families, not just those with established child support orders. It is not fair, the argument goes, to deny this benefit to children who through no fault of their own are without awards. Indeed, sometimes even their mothers want awards but are unable to obtain them. Should they be penalized?

    Again, the rationale turns on the logic of bringing fathers back in. Making eligibility contingent on an award encourages the establishment of paternity. Currently, the vast majority of children born out of wedlock do not have child support awards. An assured benefit that will not be reduced if earnings rise provides a strong incentive for mothers to cooperate in the establishment of paternity and hence in bringing more fathers into the system of private support.

    Child Support Assurance Versus Welfare
    Some people think Child Support Assurance is just welfare by another name. The assured benefit is certainly a transfer program, but it is not welfare if it retains its universal nature. The definition of welfare is that benefits are restricted to the poor. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Medicaid, and Food Stamps count as welfare, while programs available regardless of income, such as public education and Social Security, do not. Since Child Support Assurance guarantees a minimum level of child support to all children who have a legally liable absent parent (regardless of the income of their custodial parent), the assured benefit does not meet the definition of welfare. If, however, the intent of the program is corrupted and benefits are restricted to the poor, Child Support Assurance would become another welfare program.

    The distinction is important. Child Support Assurance, especially its assured benefit, is designed specifically to provide a universal alternative to welfare assistance for single-parent families. The assured benefit differs from AFDC in myriad ways. Eligibility for assured child support depends upon legal entitlement to receive private child support; it does not depend on low income. The program is not for the poor alone but for children with nonresident parents from all income classes.

    Programs that benefit only the poor may be prudent in their limited scale. Simple arithmetic suggests, however, that the more a program's benefits are targeted to the poor, the larger the number of people who do not identify with the program's beneficiaries or care about the program's indignities and inadequacies. AFDC would carry much less stigma if its benefits had a more universal constituency.

    AFDC is also unpopular because of its reputation as a "poverty trap." The trap arises from the relationship between benefits and low-wage work. If benefits are high enough to compete with low-wage jobs and are reduced dollar for dollar as earnings increase, welfare recipients find that work simply does not pay, or else they take only intermittent, off-the-books jobs. Although the majority of families ever on welfare collect benefits for no longer than a couple of years, most beneficiaries at any time are in the midst of a period of welfare receipt at least eight years long. For these beneficiaries, welfare does seem to function more like a trap than a temporary cushion.

    The advantage of a system of universal, assured child support, with no earnings disincentive, is that it would encourage poor mothers now mired within welfare to work, remarry, and integrate themselves and their children in the social mainstream. Unlike welfare, but like Social Security, it would increase the economic security of all children potentially eligible for child support. And unlike welfare, it would be very cheap to administer.

    * * *

    Yet why not go further? Instead of limiting benefits to children who live with single parents, wouldn't it be better to provide benefits to all children?

    The United States is the only Western industrialized nation without a child allowance, a source of public income support for children of all citizens, rich and poor alike, which would benefit two-parent as well as one-parent families. Yet child allowances, while desirable, are not a substitute for a Child Support Assurance. Child allowances are not and cannot be large enough to make up for the earnings of a dead or nonresident parent. No country with a child allowance has abolished survivor's benefits. Nor has any abolished its child support enforcement system. Several European nations, including France, Germany, and Sweden, however, have adopted versions of an assured child support benefit.

    Strengthening child support enforcement has already begun to reduce AFDC costs and will do so even more in the future. The AFDC savings could be used to reduce taxes or for any other public program. But there is a logic and political appeal to using reduced welfare costs to provide an assured minimum benefit for child support. In effect, we will be reinvesting the savings from welfare in a program to prevent relapses into poverty. And because one-half of the next generation will be potentially eligible for child support, it is also a wise investment in our future.

    Can We Get There?
    Although the nation seems to be steadily moving toward Child Support Assurance, we still have a long distance to go. Despite the adoption of guidelines, the courts are still heavily involved in determining child support obligations. Few states have yet implemented universal, routine withholding of child support obligations. All states have much to do to ensure universal establishment of paternity. And, perhaps most important, neither the federal government nor any state has adopted an assured child support benefit.

    The next step toward Child Support Assurance may come from Congress. Legislation introduced in the Senate by Christopher J. Dodd and Jay Rockefeller would encourage the states to experiment with an assured child support benefit, while a proposal by Congressman Thomas J. Downey of New York calls for a full-fledged national Child Support Assurance program.

    As the Wisconsin experience has indicated, there is a danger that states may carry out the money-saving components of Child Support Assurance -- income-based support guidelines and routine withholding -- but then reject the assured benefit. Yet, as I have suggested, without the assured benefit, the incentives for cooperation, particularly in the establishment of paternity, are insufficient, and the program will not succeed in sharply reducing poverty rates. Child Support Assurance may be viewed as a three-legged stool, in which the assured benefit is as vital to its balance as a numerical child support guideline and routine income withholding.

    Welfare is a weak response to a pervasive problem. Economic insecurity and poverty plague single-parent families and their children, and the majority of children in America now spend part of their childhood living with a single parent. Isn't it time that we extend Social Security to make their lives and ours more secure?

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