Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Wha-da-know?

The Iowa General Assembly Government Oversight Committee just spent about an hour of yesterday's meeting time talking about the child support issue. Good. And if the 'crats have some ideas for constructing a bigger stick, go for it.

(AP) A government oversight committee has been told that nearly 40% of court-ordered child support payments aren't being paid.

Child support payments in Iowa are made through local clerks of court or a centralized collection agency run by the Department of Human Services. Jeanne Nesbit runs the child support collection program at DHS and she told a Government Oversight Committee that just over 62% of all child support payments are being made, which she says is better than most states.

More than $302 million in child support was collected in Iowa last year. That's up from about $175 million in 1997.

The Legislature has worked in recent years to toughen child support collections and Nesbit says her agency plans to submit more enforcement legislation next year.

Using those big sticks might just turn out to be an effective way to make things happen.

Study Ties State Laws, Unwed Child Births

By REBECCA COOK
SEATTLE (AP) - Tough child support laws may dissuade men from becoming unwed fathers, as states with the most stringent laws and strict enforcement have up to 20 percent fewer out-of-wedlock births, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Columbia University said Friday that child support laws' power to reduce single parenthood is an unintended consequence of a policy designed to help children and cut public welfare costs.

``Often the unintended effects are bad, so it's refreshing to see that,'' said lead study author Robert Plotnick, a University of Washington professor of public affairs. ``Women living in states that do a better job of enforcing child support are less likely to become an unwed mother.''

The percentage of unmarried births in the United States has increased from 10 percent in the 1960s to about a third of all births today. Because children of single parents run a higher risk of poverty, academic failure and other problems, lawmakers are always seeking policies that will discourage unwed births - usually focusing on the mothers.

Researchers said their study recognizes the father's responsibility.

``Decisions about sexual intercourse and marriage involve two people,'' said study co-author Irwin Garfinkel, a Columbia University professor and one of the nation's top experts on child support.

The study, which has not yet been published, looked at a nationwide sample of 5,195 women of childbearing age using data from 1980-1993.

It didn't show whether tougher child support laws prevented pregnancies or encouraged marriage. Plotnick said the data limited the researchers to observing a strong correlation between tough child support enforcement and fewer out-of-wedlock births. Whether that's caused by fewer unmarried people getting pregnant or more couples marrying when the woman is expecting, he could not say. But he said the findings warrant further study.

``It's been very hard to find conventional programs that reduce unwed childbearing that work,'' Plotnick said Friday. ``If you found a program cutting nonmarried births by 20 percent, you'd be happy.''

Researchers noted wide disparities in child support policies. For example, in 2002 - the most recent year for which data were available - only one state, New Jersey, collected at least 80 percent of owed child support.

According to Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty, 31 states collected 41 percent to 60 percent of child support orders. The District of Columbia collected less than 20 percent of all child support owed.


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