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On the Record: The overlooked element in welfare reform



 
 
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Old November 8th 03, 01:53 AM
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Default On the Record: The overlooked element in welfare reform

On the record: The overlooked element in welfare reform

By Richard "Casey" Hoffman
April 3, 2000
Austin American-Statesman

When Congress chose to unravel the safety net for single mothers
with the welfare reform law of 1996, some members and President Clinton
stressed the importance of strengthening child-support enforcement. With
time limits on their welfare benefits, mothers will not be able to rely on
welfare as their main source of support for their children. That clock
worries Austin's Richard "Casey" Hoffman, a lawyer who in the mid-1980s ran
the Texas child-support enforcement program and today heads Supportkids.com,
the largest private child-support collector in the country.

In January, federal officials heralded breaking new records in
nationwide child-support collections, reaching $15.5 billion last year and
nearly doubling the amount collected in 1992. Still, the job of collecting
remains monumental. One children's advocacy group estimated earlier this
year that 30 million children are owed $50 billion, while money is being
collected in only 23 percent of the cases.

Following are excerpts from a recent conversation Hoffman had
with Maria Henson, the American-Statesman's deputy editorial page editor.

On cultural changes

The basic problem is the total overwhelm in the government
child-support programs because they did not anticipate the breakdown of the
American family. Back when my parents got married, 95 percent of the
marriages ended with the death of a spouse. Today, one out of two marriages
ends in divorce. But more importantly, three out of 10 children in the
country are born to parents who aren't married. So the need for child
support has become so great that the government agencies have not been able
to keep up. The program started in 1975, and in the 25-year history of the
program, they finally collect on a little bit more than two out of every 10
cases.

1 out of 5 U.S. children living in poverty

The No. 1 reason for children living in poverty and, in my view,
the feminization of poverty is failure to pay child support...I think people
have gotten away from the importance of child-support enforcement with
respect to welfare reform. The compassionate conservatives say, 'Let's move
people from welfare to work.' But what happens to these folks after they
move to work? From welfare, they hope to get a (minimum-wage) paying job. To
be above the poverty line, you've got to get to $14,150 if you're a woman
with two children, so you're short...In my view, the way that families move
from welfare to work and above the poverty line, they have to have child
support collected. And in my view, it's the government's job to make sure
that those (welfare) cases get worked first. Now, the government is
overwhelmed with not just welfare cases, but anybody who's not on welfare in
Texas is allowed to apply for these (collection) services. If you were Ivana
Trump and lived here, you'd get these services. What's happened is the
non-welfare population has backlogged the system to the point where cases
don't get worked based on priority of need. That's where the children slip
through the cracks here. Because if the government was allowed to prioritize
their caseload and if they were allowed to take care of the neediest
children first, then we would see compassionate welfare reform.

What I'm advocating is we recognize what this cost is to our
children, because they are below the poverty line, and that we dedicate this
decade to putting our children first, making sure they get the services they
need.

In order to do (welfare reform) successfully, you have to invest
money in the child-support program. The reality is we're not collecting on
more than two out of 10--Texas is not--we're not going to make a dent in
this. That's where my heart is.

















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