“Does the child support program make money? No…”

Does the child support program “make money” for either the federal government or the states? The answer to this question, simply put, is no. Like most other social programs, the child support system provides to families a service that upholds a strong value-system of parents providing for their children, but does so at a direct high cost.[1] Table 2.4 [below] demonstrates that the program has never earned more than it has expended at the federal level. However, in the aggregate, the states earned more than they expended through 1999. After this point, the states started losing money, with an aggregate loss of $8 7 million in 2000. By 2002, the federal government was losing approximately $2.3 billion and the states were losing a total of $463 million. This change in fortunes primarily has to do with the major transition in the composition of the caseload over the past several decades. States were able to retain most of what they collected when the program was dominated by welfare cases. However, as non-welfare applicants increased, the states were legally bound to collect support on their behalf but could not keep these payments for cost reimbursement purposes.[2] Monies had to go directly to the families on behalf of whom they were collected.[3]

Crowley, Jocelyn Elise. 2008. Defiant Dads: Fathers’ Rights Activists in America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. [Excerpt and table from pages 25 and 27. Footnotes reproduced below.]


[1] Of course, these costs might be mitigated in the long run if the program prevents families from experiencing the devastating and multifaceted effects of economic hardship.

[2] States do, however, routinely charge families small fees for processing their child support cases.

[3] Recent research, however, has indicated that the poorest fathers, specifically those attached to mothers resistant to exiting welfare, have difficulty paying their current obligations. This reality has always limited the state from maximizing its collection capacity among this population.

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