Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gop Budget-Cutters Examine Child-Support Collection Fee

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gop Budget-Cutters Examine Child-Support Collection Fee

Article excerpt

The Republican drive to overhaul welfare promises a crackdown on deadbeat fathers and mothers, but GOP plans to balance the budget call for making millions of single-parent families pick up half the federal cost of enforcing child support.

As the Republicans try to make unprecedented cuts in the country's social programs, some lawmakers are arguing that a 15 percent fee on child-support collections will hurt low-income families struggling to stay afloat and off welfare.

"This is just going to take desperately needed dollars from families that are really struggling to fund the administration of a system that, frankly, government ought to provide," said Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn.

"Child-support payments are court-ordered . . . and in no other type of law enforcement situation do we require the victim pay the government to enforce the law."

But other Republicans say that in this era of budget-cutting, it is fair to ask consumers to pay for the services government provides.

An aide to the House Budget Committee, which drafted the plan, also says the fee proposal is not nearly as steep as what private collection agencies charge - from 25 percent to 33 percent of the child support owed - to find deadbeat parents.

The General Accounting Office is on the committee's side, arguing that families not on welfare who need help collecting child support are not necessarily poor and that the costs of serving them have risen significantly over the last decade.

States charged these families, which number about 8.2 million, an average of about $4 each last year for child-support services.

At the same time, the costs of helping them were $136 for each family, or $1.1 billion total, according to figures from the congressional watchdog agency.

Under the GOP's balanced budget plan approved by Congress last month, $1 billion in yearly spending on child-support enforcement - about half to two-thirds of federal spending on the program - would be replaced with a 15 percent fee on collections for nonwelfare families.

Opponents say it does not make sense to shift the costs of funding child support to single-parent families at the same time lawmakers have made strengthening enforcement a cornerstone of welfare reform plans in the House and Senate. …

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