Some low-income families may receive federal assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
However, if a family also receives child support, the assistance may come with strings attached: The state may collect and keep the child support.
State statutes determine whether the money goes to families
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, people in Michigan and many other states who receive TANF must give the state the right to collect and keep child support payments.
Although half the states keep all the child support, there is an option that allows them to pass the money through to families. In some states, this amount is as much as $50, while others pass between $100 and $200 to the families, depending on the number of children. In many of these states, the support counts as income that may disqualify the families for TANF.
The federal government does not require that states keep the money, and not all of them do. In Colorado and Minnesota, families receive the full amount of child support, and the states do not count the money as income, so it does not make the families ineligible for TANF.
The system punishes parents who cannot pay
The New York Times reports that custodial parents are not the only ones who suffer from this system. The paying parent may also face serious consequences.
States collect the child support rather than allowing the paying parent to give the money directly to the custodial parent. If the noncustodial parent does not have enough money to pay, the state may garnish his or her wages anyway. The unpaid amount becomes debt that accrues and affects credit scores, housing, transportation, employment and other areas of the parent’s life.
It is likely to affect the parent’s relationship with his or her children, as well, according to studies. Parents who owe back child support typically spend less time with their children, and the time they do spend is not as positive. The debt may also affect mental health and lead to physical health problems.