Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Families depend on strong child support enforcement

Personal responsibility is part of the fabric of our state’s cultural identity. Simply put, it’s a big part of who we are as Idahoans. However, this value is being lost in the current discussion regarding our state’s child support enforcement program, a program that disproportionately affects women and children. Without this system, these members of our families and communities could fall into poverty. According to a report just released by Idaho Voices for Children, about one in four kids depend on support payments as part of their family’s budget. That equates to nearly 112,000 children all across our state.

For nearly two decades, Idaho has participated in an interstate effort to unify child support collections across state lines and also international boundaries. This cooperative effort among state and foreign nations is what allows our state to easily collect child support payments, whether the noncustodial parent resides in Nevada or New Zealand.

This commitment to holding parents responsible for their children’s care is rooted in welfare reform, specifically the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. I served in the Legislature when these reforms were being discussed, and the changes were embraced by state legislators, in part due to the emphasis on increased personal responsibility for individuals accessing assistance through the state.

These reforms also ushered in a requirement that each state step up their child support enforcement efforts by increasing the percentage of fathers identified, establishing an integrated system that links all states to information about the location and assets of parents, and requiring states to strengthen enforcement efforts. Why? Because lawmakers understood that when a noncustodial parent fails to pay child support, it puts the custodial parent (often the woman) at increased risk of having to seek public assistance to make ends meet.

In every Idaho county, hardworking parents and grandparents are raising children, and thousands of them rely upon child support payments to help keep food on the table and provide other basic necessities.

The current child support enforcement system is efficient and effective. However, due to the actions of a handful of state lawmakers, the legislation necessary to ensure Idaho’s compliance with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act did not pass out of a House committee last month. The bill would have further clarified how our state cooperates with other states and countries to uniformly collect child support payments from noncustodial parents.

If the state Legislature does not take action in a special session Monday, more than 400,000 Idaho children, parents and grandparents will be in danger of becoming financially unstable. In addition, Idaho could lose $30 million to programs critical to family self-sufficiency, including child-care assistance to working parents, children’s mental health services, and early learning opportunities such as Head Start.

AARP Idaho supports public policy that strengthens families. That is why we are calling on state legislators to pass the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act in Monday’s session to preserve Idaho’s child support enforcement program, maintain federal funding that keeps this system in place, and ensure that our state has access to enforcement tools that allow Idaho to collect more than $200 million in support payments each year.

I know the importance of adopting policies that support children and families, and many of my former colleagues in the Legislature share these values. I commend the lawmakers who are helping to address the extraordinary situation facing Idaho’s child support enforcement. Speak out for Idaho families and contact your legislators:

Tom Trail, a retired Republican legislator from Moscow, is state president of AARP Idaho.