We all want to give Colorado’s children the best opportunity to achieve their full potential. Despite receiving Medicaid and food stamps for health and nutritional needs, a parent trying to support herself and her child on $364 a month likely struggles to maintain shelter and transportation while having enough funds to cover essentials like diapers and toilet paper.
Under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which serves approximately 20 percent of eligible Colorado families living under 100 percent of the federal poverty level, custodial parents can receive a paltry $364 a month to defray living expenses — with a requirement that parents work toward securing employment. For many TANF recipients, simply getting through the day often takes time and energy away from long-term steps to greater economic stability. Stability, let along progress, is challenging when the assistance the program provides leaves a family at 27 percent of the federal poverty level. The program reached only 17,756 recipients – the poorest of the poor – in 2015.
When a custodial parent applies for TANF, chances are good that the other parent also lives in poverty, and is unable to support their child, or even themselves.
Prior to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA — also known as “welfare reform“), the government tried to collect child support from noncustodial parents and passed the first $50 onto individual families on public assistance. But the government kept the rest as a “repayment” for public-assistance dollars.
After PRWORA, Colorado, like many states, took the option of retaining all child support (minus half of what is retained by the federal government) to fund human-service programs — including child-support enforcement. Some of the incentive for noncustodial parents to pay child support was removed when they discovered the money did not actually go to their children. In fact, some noncustodial parents provided support in the form of clothes or packs of diapers “under-the-table” so that their limited dollars could directly benefit their kids.
In 2015, Colorado Center on Law and Policy proposed and developed legislation requiring that child-support payments directly benefit the kids whose parents are TANF recipients. The bill was based on an idea originally proposed by the George W. Bush administration as a way to recognize the contribution of the non-custodial parent. Unfortunately, the Bush policy was never enacted nationwide because states and counties had grown dependent on these child-support payments to help fund human-service and child-support programs.
To address such funding concerns, CCLP’s measure, Senate Bill15-012, required the state of Colorado to replace the funding the counties will lose from the policy change. The bill, which was approved by both chambers of the Colorado legislature with bipartisan support and signed by the governor, applies to child support paid to custodial parents currently receiving TANF, not to past-due child-support.
Despite being approved in 2015, the law just went effect this month because agencies needed time to implement computer changes and familiarize staff and TANF and child-support case workers on the new policy.
Because of SB 12, it’s estimated that 7,000 families could receive an average of $50 per month in child support payments. For a family receiving only $364 per month, an extra $50 represents a 14 percent bump in income. Establishing regular child-support payments — with payments directly benefitting one’s own child — fosters cooperation between human service agencies, TANF and child-support workers as well as custodial and non-custodial parents.
Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, sponsored SB 12, negotiating with counties, the state and advocates to enact these changes on behalf of some of the poorest children in our state.
“The two-generation model for breaking the cycle of poverty supports the ability of children and their parents to be successful in school and at work,” Sen. Kefalas wrote in a statement recognizing the implementation of the law. “…. A full pass-through of child support will supplement the family’s financial resources leading to more financial security. In the end, child support is for the child and not for the government.”
CCLP is proud to have worked with Sen. Kefalas on SB 12. We are hopeful that thousands of Colorado’s kids will benefit from this important legislation.
-By Chaer Robert