Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Idaho must act to protect kids, enforce child support

In Idaho, we all agree that parents should be responsible for caring for their children. One of the ways we see to this is through child support. Unfortunately, the system that enforces these arrangements — ensuring the financial responsibility of parents and protecting children — is in grave danger. Without swift action by the governor and the Idaho Legislature, our system could unravel by July 1.

That’s because some legislators put the brakes on legislation that would commit Idaho to enforce child support orders from other states and countries, and commit other states and countries to enforce Idaho child support orders. Without such enforcement, child support orders would become meaningless here and in other countries that are willing to cooperate with the United States in child support enforcement. This would pull the rug out from under 400,000 children, parents and grandparents who rely on Idaho’s Child Support Program. Without this program, families cannot depend on child support payments for their family budgets and may have to turn to public assistance.

On the last day of the legislative session, the House Judiciary and Rules Committee took up a SB1067 (passed unanimously in the Senate) to ensure our compliance with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. The bill clarified how we work with other states and countries to uniformly put children first. It also added provisions that actually increase our state’s protections against orders that might contradict Idaho laws.

To uphold our interstate and international cooperative agreements, all states must pass these clarifications to continue using national tools that are essential to enforcement of child support orders. These tools allow us to locate parents who owe money and efficiently process payments.

By a margin of one vote, the committee sidetracked this crucial legislation, largely out of concern for our state sovereignty (a concern that the Idaho Attorney General’s office was able to later relieve). The nine representatives who voted to hold up this bill did not intend to harm Idaho’s children. However, now that we have had time to more thoroughly study the issue, it is clear that we urgently need to reverse this decision.

Today, the consequences of our inaction are clearer. To start, we’re about to lose $16 million to fund the administrative costs of child support enforcement, as well as access to the national systems that generate $200 million in child support payments from individuals to Idaho kids.

It’s hard to imagine how thousands of Idaho families will cope with a substantial piece of their household budget disappearing. Missed and late payments can hamper their ability to pay the mortgage, get food on the table, and provide basic necessities for their children. Even when two parents mutually agree to payments, child support enforcement makes sure those payments come in on time and at the required levels.

These dollars belong to the families, and our system should ensure that the money arrives, rather than set up roadblocks. If we fail to act, we can expect to see severe strains on already overburdened charitable services, in addition to an increased need for public assistance.

Once our child support enforcement system loses approval, we will also become ineligible for $30 million to address critical needs in Idaho, including child care assistance to working parents, children’s mental health services, and early learning opportunities.

These are real hardships for real families. It is critical that Idaho lawmakers reverse course and act quickly to pass this legislation. An efficient, cooperative system is best for Idaho’s children, and coordination with other states is a benefit, not a hindrance, to operating a high-quality system. That’s good for our kids.

Note: On April 30 Gov. Butch Otter called for a special session of the Idaho Legislature on May 18 to take up the matter of SB 1067.