By: L. Hedayatpour
The Texas Attorney General Child Support Division ranked first in the nation for collecting $3.8 billion in child support for the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 2015, according to KXXV News in Waco, Texas. In total, $11 billion in child support is owed state-wide, and many parents are struggling to pay child support. These parents could be anyone from low-income families, to families whose parents have suffered from lay-offs, especially within the oil industry in Texas. According to the Texas Alliance of Energy, Texas has lost 84,000 oil and gas jobs in just 16 months and counting.
But there are ways to offset the crippling debt that comes with paying child support. Texas’ NCP (Noncustodial Parent) Choices Program is designed to provide unemployed or underemployed noncustodial parents who have fallen behind on child support, and whose children have been on or are on public assistance, resources to gain employment. Some of the program benefits are job development, GED and ESL classes, career planning, and transportation services.
This program is a collaborative effort between the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Together, the two have implemented a model employment project as a way to assist low-income noncustodial parents in getting out of their child support debt, to gain employment, to encourage parent-child relationships, and most importantly, to prevent parents from going to jail as a result of their debt. As of 2017, NCP programs are offered in 17 Workforce Development Boards across Texas and have served 25,400 NCPs.
An example highlighting this program’s success took place in Bexar County, Texas. Howard Wilson, the father of a newborn, was unemployed for two months after the Denny’s he worked at shut down, and he had been unable to secure a job to pay for his child support. However, in Texas, unemployment is not a defense to non-child support. After contacting NCP Choices, he not only found a job, but also began paying child support within two weeks. In a statement to mySA News, Wilson said,
“If it weren’t for that, I’d probably be in jail right now.”
The NCP provides a variety of benefits. Senior Workforce Services Specialist Vickie Reece reports welfare costs for the state are reduced because for every $1 that is invested in the NCP Choices programs, $3 in child support is collected on average. Additionally, a 2008 program impact analysis by the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources reported that NCP’s paid their child support 53% more consistently over time, were employed at 18% higher rates, and were 25% as likely to file an unemployment claim in any given month within the first two years after the program. Also, to ensure that employers are more willing to keep NCP workers, the center offers subsidized employment and pays 90% of employees’ salaries for the first 400 hours at their new job.
On the other hand, NCP Choices could improve by becoming both more inclusive and prominent across the state of Texas. Instead of helping noncustodial parents after they have been delinquent, the program could help parents who are at a high risk of inevitably becoming delinquent. Rather than forcing parents to work off their government debt, the program could forgive them of their debt, but not of their child support. Furthermore, the program severely limits the extent in which parents can utilize benefits the program offers because it is only applicable for those who reside in the 17 areas the boards are located in. Additionally, eligible parents cannot access these resources without an enforcement or establishment order by the court, as opposed to an interest application.
In comparison, New York has a program called REAL (Responsible Employed Active Loving) Parenting Pilot for Stronger Families. REAL recruited 25 unemployed fathers on public assistance who had child support debt between $2,000 and $80,000 and offered to eliminate almost all of their debt. Instead of simply offering a means of employment like Texas’ NCP program, REAL gave unemployed fathers both jobs and the chance to rid them of their child support debt. If fathers took 40 hours of classes, 25% of their debt was forgiven. If they were employed for over 90 days, another 25% was forgiven. Lastly, if the fathers kept up with their child support for a year, their child support debt was reduced to a mere $500.
What are your thoughts? Should Texas implement a similar program to the REAL Program in New York? Can we make our current child support programs more inclusive? Should jail time be a penalty considered for noncustodial parents in child support debt? Should we put more government funding into programs like these and expand similar initiatives across the country? Lastly, what can we do to help the 460,000 financially delinquent parents in Texas pay their $11 billion in child support on time?