by Hans Bader
Not content with repealing welfare reform through the job-killing stimulus package, and proposing a massive marriage penalty in the tax code, Obama and his Congressional allies are now planning to make married and widowed taxpayers subsidize benefits for which they are not eligible, such as payments to households with out-of-wedlock births. For example, they are pushing a bill that will allow even households that receive tens of thousands of dollars a year in child support to demand food stamps.
“With support from President Obama, Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) introduced the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2009 for Father’s Day, a bill cosponsored by then-Senator Barack Obama in the last Congress.” The bill will “ensure that child support payments to families do not count as income and result in loss of food stamps.”
Intact families, and widows, usually have every dollar they make considered in whether they qualify for food stamps. But under the Obama-backed proposal, unwed mothers, and divorced mothers, would not, since the child-support dollars they receive would be arbitrarily excluded.
Take a hypothetical widow and divorced woman, both of whom have children to take care of. The widow’s household has an income of $25,000 a year, based solely on the widow’s salary for working in a meat-packing plant. The divorced woman, who does not work, has an income of $48,000, $12,000 from alimony, and $36,000 from child support — the actual amounts received by a divorced mom with one child in Freedman v. Freedman, 730 N.E.2d 913 (Mass. App. 2000).
Under Obama’s plan, the divorced woman is eligible for food stamps, even though she is not poor, because her child support is arbitrarily excluded from her income.
But the widow, who makes much less than the divorced woman, and works much more, is not eligible for food stamps, simply because her income is from working, not from child support. Instead, she ends up paying for the divorcee’s food stamps with her hard-earned tax dollars. (I’ve actually understated the case, since the earnings for my hypothetical divorced mom are based on a 2000 court decision in Massachusetts, where child support levels have since risen radically).
The Obama-backed bill also increases the federal matching funds states receive for maximizing their collection of child support payments, giving them an incentive to artificially jack up child support obligations in order to reap federal money (as many states did in the aftermath of the 1988 Family Support Act), even if that means forcing fathers who have never missed a payment to pay much more than the actual cost of raising a child. I have previously written about how court-ordered child support payments generally exceed the actual cost of raising a child under most existing state child-support guidelines.
(The other way for states to increase their collections, and thus reap federal matching funds, would be to increase rates of compliance with child support obligations, rather than increasing the obligations themselves. But that is much more difficult for states to do, since deadbeat dads tend to be low-income men who cannot possibly pay all that they have ordered to pay under state child support guidelines, which typically order divorced fathers to make payments that exceed what the fathers spent on their children back when they were married, financially destroying some of them in the process. As Glenn Sacks observes, the “Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement’s own data show that two-thirds of ‘deadbeat dads’ earn poverty-level wages, and only 4 percent earn even $40,000 a year.” It is much easier for states to ratchet up the child-support obligations imposed on middle-class fathers who already pay their child support, than to collect unpaid child support owed by low-income fathers.)
By the way, I am not divorced, and have never been ordered to pay child support.