Skip to comments.Welfare reform meets the law of unintended consequences
Posted on 04/03/2006 12:32:52 AM PDT by RogerFGay
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, known as Welfare Reform, has been cheered as a stunning achievement of the Republican Congress and its Contract With America. The law helped to move millions of welfare recipients out of dependency and into productive jobs, but its unintended consequences brought many thousands of "never welfare" families into the welfare bureaucracy.
Financial incentives are often built into tax credits, reductions or bonuses to influence human behavior in home ownership, energy, water, transportation, and waste management. But sometimes the law contains incentives that were not planned, expected or desirable.
The Great Society welfare system was recognized by the 1990s as a social disaster that created fatherless children, illegitimacy and women's dependency on government. Channeling taxpayer handouts to mothers provided a powerful financial incentive for fathers to depart; they were not needed anymore.
Unfortunately, policy changes in the 1988 and 1996 welfare laws created similar financial incentives for state governments to exclude middle-class fathers from the home. The law incentivized the states to manufacture "noncustodial" (i.e., absent) fathers and to order money transfers (usually through wage garnishment) to mothers, thereby putting a large segment of the middle class under the welfare bureaucrats.
The major goal of the 1996 Welfare Reform was to reduce the budget deficit by, among other things, recovering welfare costs from absentee fathers. Without justification or public debate, the rules to accomplish this were then applied to middle-class "never welfare" families.
Formerly, to receive welfare benefits, recipients had to demonstrate eligibility by "need" (i.e., a test measured by income level), but the new policy omitted income eligibility requirements. Without a means test, a high-income mother with custody can use the power of the state to collect from a low-income father.
The federal government annually provides $4.2 billion in block grants to states to serve as collection agencies. States are reimbursed for 66 percent of their costs of child support enforcement activities, 80 percent of their costs for technology, and 66 percent of their costs of DNA testing for paternity.
The more cases the states can create and the more operational expenses they incur, the more federal funding states receive to expand their welfare bureaucracy. No performance standards are required to get this money and, in addition, the feds provide a bonus fund ($458 million in Fiscal 2006) for which the states compete.
In the welfare class, most absentee fathers are unemployed or working for wages so low that little or no money can be squeezed out of them. State bureaucrats discovered they could cash in on the pot of federal money by exploiting middle-class divorce and creating a whole new class of absent fathers who have good jobs and are willingly making payments to their ex-wives.
When a married couple with children is divorced, the family court typically renames the husband and wife as noncustodial and custodial parents. The more time with the children that is awarded to the custodial parent, the more money the noncustodial parent is ordered to pay and then can be reported by the state as collections that merit federal bonuses.
Federal funding thus provides powerful monetary incentives for states to maximize the number of single-parent households with high transfer payments, and to minimize equal child custody which would lessen transfer payments. Depriving or reducing children's access to one parent is thus a source of revenue for states.
These incentives drive family court discretion and skew the opinions of the vast army of lawyers, psychologists, custody evaluators, and parenting counselors who are used to rationalize the process. They hide their predetermined custody rulings under the subjective slogan "the best interest of the child."
Put another way, forcibly depriving children of access to one parent, usually the father because he usually has a higher income than the mother, is a big source of revenue to states. The more support orders that are issued, the higher they are, and the more fathers who are threatened with jail and suspension of their driver's and professional licenses for challenging the system, the better chance a state will receive more money from the federal government.
This result was accurately predicted by Leslie L. Frye, chief of Child Support for the California Department of Social Services. In testifying to the Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee on March 20, 1997, Frye said the new regulations "encouraged states to recruit middle-class families, never dependent on public assistance and never likely to be so, into their programs in order to maximize federal child support incentives."
Of the 40 percent of U.S. children now growing up in homes without their own father, some are victims of the stereotypical "deadbeat dad." But most are victims of disastrous federal policies that provided incentives to create female-headed households, first by the Democrats' welfare system and then by the Republicans' so-called welfare reform.
Many consciences should be burdened with the realization that taxpayer money provides financial incentives to deprive millions of children of their own fathers.
Phyllis Schlafly is the President and Founder of the Eagle Forum.
Parents SHOULD be responsible for their kids.
If the father doesn't work, perhaps he can stay home and take care of the kids while the mother works.
What planet are you from to suggest that Parents are responsible for children? Government owns them and is fully responsible for them. The government also has the responsibility to brainwash them in communist camps (aka public schools).
you are a genius.
But, but...I thought it took a village!
You almost have it right.
It takes a village idiot!
The article is talking about a one parent home.
Either the woman is alone with children because they are divorced or they are single women with children.
Women alone with children can work, the thought that they can't work is BS. I personally know a woman who when she got a divorce went to work when her baby was a few months old, that was 21 years ago and she is still working for Exxon. Never once took one penny from welfare or medicaid.
Women who sit around all day watching soaps and waiting for the government to support her kids and her are lazy leeches.
Yes, women can work, but children of working women still need fathers and child support, from my experience.
Yes the children need their Father but the point is that it has nothing to do with whether the woman goes to work, that is two separate issues.
If they go to work the father still has to pay support but at least the woman is than taking responsibility to care for herself and her family.
The separate issue is whether there is a public interest in compelling payments from fathers who have not abandoned their children to the welfare roles. This is the means test Phyllis is describing here. The program legitimately compels fathers who do abandon families to the welfare roles to contribute or reimburse the government for public assistance payments they are obligated to provide when they had the means to do so.
Assuming the people gave the power of parens patriae to their state, and it could be argued they did not, the power is at least limited to cases that demonstrate a need to protect a class who are abused or neglected. Without proof of such a need, the state has no power to interfere with our right to be left alone. The issue is this program ignores any limit to the excersize of government power to interfere with private rights.
Our state only takes on collecting child support for (non-welfare) children when the non-custodial parent is at least a month behind already on court ordered payments. I (and other middle income working parents I know) appreciate the state collecting it. If it wasn't for that, who knows when these exes would pay up? (It would get expensive to keep dragging him/her in to court.)
Would you be eligible for welfare if he payed you nothing?
Not even close to eligible for any government services.
Actually, the situation is pretty lousy with corruption. The fed pays states a bonus depending on how much is paid through the collection system. So, states have made a special effort to force men into the payment system to collect higher amounts of federal funding.
I believe that it probably is corrupt. I don't know about other states, but in WA, I don't see that it really hurts the dads that the state collects (other than they are required to pay.) My ex has gotten behind before (like when he went on 100% paid disability for a month and a half and it took a year for them to get that month's support back from him) and they don't even charge interest (although they are legally allowed to do so.) I am sure that it saves everyone in court costs and lawyer fees, because I don't need to go to court everytime he gets behind. (Before I was paid through the state, he gave me whatever amount of money he felt like paying, at his convenience.)
I don't think it's a great idea for the feds to waste their money on this, but... it is a very helpful service for those of us on the receiving end.
It is another cog in the giant anti-male feminizitation of everything. We have suspected the courts favored women -- now we have proof of another reason why.
The "welfare of the children" is NOT on the agenda in Family Court.
I do agree that low income fathers are hit the hardest by the child support rules. I know men who pay almost as much for one child as my ex-husband pays for two (one of whom is disabled, but that is a non-issue for the courts), yet make HALF as much as my ex does.
My ex was able to take almost a year to pay back the month and a half he missed last year (where his income wasn't cut, but his source of income was different), yet I was not able to wait a year and a half to pay my mortgage, car payment, car insurance, utilities, gas for the car, food for the kids, etc. Plus, he didn't pay a cent of interest, which is what I would have had to pay had I the opportunity to spread my monthly expenses over the year.
I know someone whose ex voluntarily quit his high paying job (on purpose), is not working (because he is living with a very well off woman), and successfully was able to cut his child support in half just a few months ago due to his lower income.
I have found the people hit the most unfairly by our schedules are the women who work and have a decent income. (i.e. probably the women not getting any govt. benefits...hmmmmm..)
I wonder if WA state should also look into an adjustment for women who have a second family (or actually an addition to the first.) Wouldn't that be fair, too?