Governing Magazine reports:
Officials in Westchester County, N.Y., want to help low-income fathers who are behind in their child support payments.
“These guys aren’t deadbeats,” says Kevin McGuire, the county’s social services commissioner. “They’re dead broke.”
In a 2006 study of nine states, 70 percent of late child support payments were owed by parents who made no more than $10,000 a year. For these parents, the average child support obligation equaled about 83 percent of their reported income, according to the Urban Institute.
Once child support debt piles up, interest can be added to it every month it goes unpaid. For some, the punishment is jail, which further limits their ability to pay. Nationally, about a third of child support isn’t paid each year, and only 15 percent of related debt and interest gets collected.
In Westchester, officials see employment as the main solution for getting fathers to comply with child support orders. But job assistance programs alone hadn’t solved the problem in the past, and Joseph Kenner, the county’s deputy commissioner of social services, thought he knew why.
“What I felt was missing was some kind of carrot,” Kenner says.
In the county’s Responsible Employed Active Loving (R.E.A.L) Parenting Pilot for Stronger Families, the carrot is the opportunity for non-custodial parents to eliminate most of the debt they owe to the county government. (It does not, however, affect debt they owe to families.)
Here’s how the program works: The county Department of Social Services recruited 25 volunteers — unemployed fathers on public assistance who have child support debt anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000 — to take 40 hours of classes over 10 weeks. The classes cover a range of topics, from financial management to parenting to career counseling. At the end of the 40 hours, the county reduces participants’ debt by 25 percent. That’s the first carrot.
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