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Child Support and Fatherhood Bill Approved by Committee

The House Ways and Means Committee on July 19 approved, by voice vote, legislation (H.R. 4678) designed to improve the child support system. The Subcommittee on Human Resources approved the bill, which is sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Nancy Johnson (R-CT), on June 27 (see The Source, 6/30/00).

During the mark-up, the full committee approved, by voice vote, a substitute amendment offered by Rep. Johnson to alter a major provision of her bill. As introduced, the measure would have allowed states to contract with private companies for collection and enforcement of child support. Rep. Johnson and other subcommittee Republicans favored the involvement of private collection companies as a way to increase the amount of money going to custodial parents.

However, seeking to address concerns expressed by the subcommittee’s ranking member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Johnson’s substitute amendment scaled back the proposal to a study of the idea. Rep. Cardin and several organizations—including the National Women’s Law Center and the Association for Enforcement of Child Support—are wary of violating the privacy of families by making public their personal financial information.

Commenting on the matter during the full committee mark-up, Rep. Johnson described her bill as “important but modest,” adding that she remains eager to involve private companies in child support collection at some point. “I have not for a moment given up my concern about the limited public resources and the need to collect more child support,” she said. Committee Chair Bill Archer (R-TX) announced that it is his intention to work toward the involvement of private collection companies next year.

The committee accepted, by voice vote, an amendment by Reps. Jerry Weller (R-IL) and Karen Thurman (D-FL) to increase the federal contribution to training programs for child welfare workers employed by private companies that contract to provide services for state governments. Under the amendment, the federal contribution would be raised from 50 percent of total costs to 75 percent. The federal government already contributes 75 percent to training programs for child welfare workers employed directly by states.

H.R. 4678 also includes a version of a bill (H.R. 3073) designed to encourage fathers’ involvement with their children, which already was approved by the full House last November (see The Source, 11/12/99). Rep. Johnson noted that legislation “is still stalled in the Senate,” saying it was added to the child support bill in the hope of moving them together.

In addition, Rep. Johnson said her amendment added new language to the bill’s fatherhood section “to strengthen efforts to prevent child and spouse abuse in a number of ways.” She said the changes were made in response to concerns expressed by several women’s advocacy organizations that the bill’s emphasis on marriage would encourage women and children to remain in abusive homes or situations. “We want to promote marriage, but it is most important to promote healthy homes for children,” she said.

During the mark-up, several amendments were discussed and withdrawn without a committee vote, including:

  • an amendment by Rep. Cardin to pass through the entirety of child support payments to custodial parents who are on welfare, rather than allowing states to withhold the money to offset welfare benefit costs;
  • an amendment by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) to change the wording of the bill’s fatherhood section to replace “fathers” and “fatherhood” with “parents” and “parenthood;” and
  • an amendment by Rep. Stark to modify the fatherhood section’s charitable choice language and remove a requirement that 75 percent of grants be awarded to non-governmental organizations, including faith-based organizations.
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