The Limited Reach of the Child Support Enforcement System

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program is a 40-year-plus partnership of national, state, and local governments that promotes economic self-sufficiency for single-parent families in hopes of supporting the well-being of children living with only one parent. The CSE program works to achieve this goal by locating absent parents, establishing paternity, creating financial and medical support obligations that the absent parent must contribute, and enforcing those obligations. Given its track record, one would expect the program to expand over time. But a look at the data suggests the opposite is true: the CSE program’s reach has been declining for at least a decade.

The bulk of this reduction is due to the dramatic decline in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseloads, thus shrinking the pipeline of mandatory child support cases.

Extending automatic enrollment to include programs such as Medicaid would better serve the majority of needy custodial parent families, while still allowing those who object to opt out. The federal CSE program would be better positioned to serve the modern custodial parent population, help keep families with children out of poverty, and make sure that absent parents meet their responsibilities.

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