As Joseph Llobera from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated in his report Child Support Cooperation Requirements in SNAP Are Unproven, Costly, and Put Families at Risk, “both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and the Child Support program improve the health and well-being of millions of low-income children every year” and both are vital to lifting families out of poverty. According to 2018 census data, child support income lifted nearly 800,000 people, including about 429,000 children, out of poverty and SNAP lifted 3.1 million Americans out of poverty.
But one piece of legislation filed in the Missouri legislature this year will deny SNAP benefits for qualified non-custodial parents (even if they have other children in their home) who are not compliant with the State’s child support enforcement (HB 2255). As much as we agree that paying child support is necessary and important for the well being of children, we believe this is bad policy. Taking away a basic necessity to live, like food, from anyone in order to encourage compliance is short sighted and wrong. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “There is no evidence that the policy generates significantly more child support payments to custodial households without substantially threatening children’s food security.”
On February 16th, Empower Missouri testified against this policy in the House Downsizing State Government Committee. From the research we have done on this issue, we have found that there are other options that states can do to encourage child support payments that do not include denying someone their basic needs.
First, we believe a more supportive family-center approach would have more success in increasing child support payments. Other states have found success in that approach. One first step to increasing participation is to assess why families are not participating. Gaining a fuller understanding of why families are not participating will be helpful in increasing overall participation. Secondly, many states have had success through increased marketing and education about the program and the process. By educating non-custodial as well as custodial parents about the positive implications of being involved and documenting involvement in a Child Support Program an increase in participation will take place. This increased education and outreach has happened in other states through increased social media presence, targeted outreach to populations such as rural families or Spanish speaking communities, or locating child support staff in locations with SNAP outreach offices. Finally, increasing support services to both custodial and non-custodial families can increase child support payments. Offering services like case management, employment services, parenting classes and mentoring services can help parents be more secure, feel more supported and then be able to better pay child support.
If the State is set on imposing punitive consequences for failing to formalize child support payments, there are other options that states can take that do not deny someone a basic need, like food. First option is to intercept things like federal or state income tax returns or even lottery winnings. In addition, some states have suspended or denied access to recreation (hunting/fishing) licenses or to the issuance of passports. Additionally, some states have added negative information to a person’s credit score for failure to pay child support. These punitive means to increase cooperation, though not the best option to increase participation, is a better option than taking away food, which should never be used as a means of incentive.
HB 2255, has passed out of the House Downsizing Government Committee and out of the House Rules Committee. Any advocacy to legislators in the Missouri House regarding how this bill is not the way to increase child support for Missouri children would be greatly appreciated. CLICK HERE to find out who your legislators are and CLICK HERE for Empower Missouri’s testimony against the bill.