Apr 5, 2017

An expert in policy advocacy and coalition building, Chaer has dedicated her career to helping people meet their basic needs and expanding economic opportunity. She serves on the executive committee of the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) coalition. Staff page ›

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Law lets child support actually support children

by | Apr 5, 2017

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

Recent articles

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.