It’s the lie that never dies– child support collects $4 for every $1 spent on enforcement, so enforcement efforts should be stepped up, and certainly not cut. The latest to push this is Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, as part of his new “Initiative to Strengthen Families.” No, I’m not accusing him of being deceitful–he may well not know the truth about the issue. In my co-authored column
Federal Child Support Enforcement Cuts Will Hurt Bureaucrats, not Children
(Las Vegas Review-Journal & others, 12/17/05), I explained:

“It is true that federal figures show that over $20 billion in child support is collected nationwide yearly, and that only $5 billion is spent on enforcement. However, the vast majority of the funds collected are not done through enforcement tactics—they’re simply the payments already being made by law-abiding noncustodial parents. These payments will continue to be made regardless of the cuts. The myth that child support enforcement is a bargain was created by incorrectly counterposing total collections with expenditures on enforcement. In reality, much if not most child support enforcement funds are frittered away in misguided attempts to collect artificially inflated paper arrearages from low-income men who couldn’t possibly pay them.”

To give child support enforcement credit for all child support collections is like the collections department at Target being credited every time you buy something and pay at the cash register. It’s utterly preposterous.

Edwards says his program seeks to “Encourage and Reward Responsibility from Fathers”:

“Welfare reform required mothers to work and helps them find jobs, but it failed to reach low-income fathers.  Edwards will require more fathers to help support their children and, in return, help them find work.  He will reverse budget cuts in child support enforcement to increase collections by more than $8 billion over the next decade and ensure that payments benefit children.”

As I explained in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, this is a fantasy–increased money for enforcement will not lead to a windfall of new collections, but will instead be a further waste of taxpayer money. The Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2007, introduced recently by U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Evan Bayh (D-IN), operates on similarly fallacious assumptions.

Funding for child support enforcement also increases enforcement abuses, which are already a major problem. To learn more, see my co-authored column Child Support Enforcement System Victimizes Military Personnel, Innocent Citizens (World Net Daily, 6/27/07).

Thanks to child support expert Jane Spies of the National Family Justice Association for pointing out the Edwards story to me.

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