By Chris Kramer
It has become the dreaded chore that make even adults whine: balancing the checkbook. No one enjoys adding up the costs of the electric and cable bill, grocery store tab, insane fuel receipt and rent. Even the fun purchases of clothing, books and dinners out end in a downer when the total on the right-hand side begins to dwindle.
These days families have to work hard to play hard with the high costs and newest trends that lure kids in a 15 second commercial. With the economy in the downward spiral, single parent families are feeling the pinch in their pocket even more. So when the child support check doesn’t come in the mail, times get really tough.
To ensure the custodial parents will receive the court mandated child support, the government developed a child support enforcement program. The CSE includes services like locating non-custodial parents, establishing paternity, developing support orders, collecting support payments and services for non-custodial parents. The state’s individual programs get involved in child support cases when the noncustodial parent falls behind or has not made payments. The programs help locate the parent and ensure the child support payments are made by suspending driver’s licenses or withholding money from a paycheck or income tax refund.
In 2005, Congress passed the federal Deficit Reduction Act to help enhance the child support enforcement program. The bill was also passed to help slow the growth of benefit programs including Medicaid and student loan subsidies be requiring states collect a mandatory annual $25 fee for families not considered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in cases exceeding $500 in collections.
States had the option of paying the fee by paying the cost out-of-pocket, charging the custodial parent or billing the noncustodial parent; in return, the state gets a third of total collected through the fee. Most of the states chose to charge the custodial parent, including Pennsylvania, whose governor signed the bill in May for the child support fee.
The state passed a law that will cover the fee for parents who receive yearly child support payments less than $2,000 but require those who get more to pay. A welfare department spokeswoman, Stacey Witalec, told the York Daily Record that the state budget was tight; the state couldn’t afford to pay the full fee of $2.6 million in the fiscal year of 2007-08 and $3.2 million the next year. State officials decided they could rely on the custodial parent to pay the fee.
Within the couple months the bill has been on the books, it has already received opposition. Representative Kate Harper is working hard to repeal the Child Support Tax. She feels the fee is an unfair assessment on families that receive as little as $167 a month in support payments. The money is better spent on the welfare of the children, clothing, feeding and sheltering them.
Harper has been active in supporting the bill she introduced in August to repeal the fee, including a 30-minute program highlighting a press conference in honor of Child Support Awareness Month last month. She hopes her efforts win over the support of other representatives, but is not sure she will be able to persuade the Democratically-controlled House to revisit the issue since the fall session is shortened by the upcoming election.
Harper feels the state has enough resources to cover the full cost. In comparison to the multibillion-dollar budget the state has, in which 40 percent of it is devoted to public welfare spending, Harper says the fee is minute.