Senator Nancy Skinner Announces the “Child Support Reform Act”

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State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, Monday announced the “Child Support Reform Act,” which seeks to ensure that low-income families receive all the child support payments to which they are entitled.

The act, Senate Bill 337, would overturn a decades-old law under which child-support payments meant for families who receive CalWORKs benefits go to the state rather than to the families and children who need it most.

“The Child Support Reform Act will right a historic wrong,” Sen. Skinner said. “Last year, more than 1.2 million California children living in or near poverty did not receive the full child support payments made by their parents. California must stop taking the lion’s share of support payments that rightfully belong to families and kids.”

“Most people don’t realize that when a child support payment is made to a low-income child, all but $50 of it goes to the state,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is co-sponsoring SB 337. “This doesn’t support the child, and it doesn’t help our child poverty rate. What’s more, it discourages parents from making payments at all.”

Under a California “welfare reform” law that dates back to the administration of GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, when a non-custodial parent makes a child support payment to a parent and child who receive CalWORKs benefits, the payment doesn’t actually go to the custodial parent and child. Instead, all but $50 of it goes to the state. The rationale behind the old law was that the state should be “reimbursed” for providing CalWORKs benefits to low-income families and children. It was also designed to discourage parents with children from going on welfare.

But the old law has contributed to poor outcomes. California currently has one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation – and yet the state keeps depriving low-income kids and their families of child support payments that they desperately need.

In addition, the existing law has buried low-income non-custodial parents under a mountain of uncollectible debt. If low-income parents are temporarily unable to pay child support to the state because, for example, they’re unemployed, injured, homeless, or incarcerated, their state debt continues to accumulate – at a 10 percent interest rate. According to an analysis of county records conducted by The Financial Justice Project, parents across California owe approximately $12.75 billion to the state and federal governments for the cost of public benefits. More than a quarter of that debt is accrued interest.

Today, 73 percent of outstanding child support debt is owed to the state – not to families and children. And much of this debt is uncollectable because it’s owed by people who lack the resources to pay it. Parents making less than $10,000 now owe 70 percent of all child support debt that is owed to the government.

Under SB 337:

  • 100 percent of a child support payments would go to the custodial parent of that child
  • The first $200 in child support payments received per month would be exempt when considering eligibility for the CalWORKs program
  • And all child support payments that are owed to the government would no longer be considered delinquent if the state deems them non-collectible.

“Just as California now realizes that ‘tough-on-crime’ laws of the 1990s were a bad mistake and had unintended consequences, it’s also time for the state to acknowledge that so-called ‘welfare reform’ laws were similarly misguided,” Skinner said.

Sen. Nancy Skinner (@NancySkinnerCA) represents the 9th Senate District.


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