Helping 'Dead Broke' Dads

THE Bush administration is promoting needed changes in the way child support is collected for poor families on welfare. Most important, it wants support money to be paid directly to families, not to state welfare agencies.

Generally, the money paid by ex-spouses or partners goes to the states as reimbursement for welfare benefits given children.

The Bush change would mean that the fathers, who usually have trouble scraping enough together to make payments, would know exactly where the money is going. They'd have an added incentive - direct engagement - to pay.

Only three states - Wisconsin, Vermont, and Connecticut - now require that most or all payments go straight to mothers and children. A study of Wisconsin's program shows it encourages fathers to make payments and also encourages unwed mothers to identify the fathers of their children.

The administration's proposed change, by itself, won't solve the problem of accumulating child-support arrears piling up on some 2.5 million fathers nationwide who don't have the means to pay. Fathers in that position also need courts and judges willing to adjust payment amounts and possibly forgive arrears if current payments are begun and sustained. Even modest child support payments can represent a high percentage of a poorer dad's income.

Job training to boost earning potential is important, too, especially for fathers with minimal education.

The ultimate beneficiaries of all these efforts will be children who grow up knowing they have a father who is willing, and able, to support them.

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