Chapter 5: Child support policy and the unintended consequences of good intentions
Ronald K. Henry INTRODUCTION: THE GROWTH OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT Over the course of the past two decades, Congress has taken an increasingly interventionist approach to child support enforcement. Formerly a matter reserved exclusively to the states, child support enforcement has become heavily federalized. The Oﬃce of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), a unit within the Administration for Children and Families at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, publishes and posts on its website detailed statistics about the Child Support Enforcement Program from which much can be learned.1 From OCSE data, we learn that the federal government spent $3.0 billion and, largely as a result of federal mandates, the states spent an additional $1.5 billion for a total of a little over $4.5 billion in child support enforcement expenditures in ﬁscal year 2000. This is, undeniably, a big programme and big programmes need big justiﬁcations which OCSE is quick to provide. According to the OCSE data, the Child Support Enforcement Program had a ‘cost-eﬀectiveness’ of 3.95, meaning that $3.95 of child support was collected for each dollar of programme expense. As described to congressional appropriators, the programme is, thus, highly eﬀective and continues to grow year by year. In this post-Enron era of accounting disclosures, however, it is worthwhile to look more closely at the numbers. The federal role in child support enforcement came about as a means to recoup welfare expenditures. Congress was told that the taxpayers were supporting children on welfare because...
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