Fathers in prison facing immensely high debt over unpaid child support payments will have the opportunity to “press pause” with a new program enacted in the next few years by President Barack Obama,The Washington Post reports.
The Obama administration recently announced new adjustments that will allow incarcerated fathers to have the option to label their prison stay as “involuntary” to avoid racking up debt in jail. The regulations have been met with criticism from both sides; one argument agrees the act will help fathers avoid debt upon leaving prison, while the other believes single mothers could be without the option to receive welfare from the government.
The move would officially allow a legal right in reduction of child support payments that isn’t currently allowed in 14 states.
“I am fundamentally opposed to policies that allow parents to abdicate their responsibilities, which, in turn, results in more families having to go on welfare,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a speech in June on the Senate floor. Obama’s new regulations, he said, “would undermine a key feature of welfare reform, which is that single mothers can avoid welfare if fathers comply with child-support orders.”
Administration officials and their supporters counter that billing fathers while they’re in prison does little but dig them deeper into debt.
“Billing poor fathers doesn’t help poor mothers and kids become less poor,” said Jacquelyn Boggess, a poverty expert with the Center for Family Policy and Practice.
“All it creates,” she said, “is a highly indebted individual.”
The new rules wouldn’t be carried out by state regulators until 2017. The site reports half of the 2.2 million people behind prison are fathers, with 1 in 5 having to pay child support.
Federal prisoners roughly make $.23 and $1.15 per hour, making it nearly impossible to pay child support payments that can add up to over $150 a month. Furthermore, former inmates can face re-incarceration for simply not paying off their huge debts.
The Office of Child Support Enforcement reported in 2014 that only 6.8 percent of $112.5 billion in overdue child support payments were paid. Supporters of the new regulations believe the move will also help change the aspect of welfare for single mothers. Even if the former inmate was able to make monthly payments, the money would more than likely go to late fines and back to the government — not the child or mother.
The regulation will disperse $35 million over the next five years to provide fathers with job training, bus fare, and more helpful tools for getting back on their feet. To qualify for the program, prisoners have to file official paperwork to prove their incarceration.
Republicans like Chairman of House and Ways Committee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Hatch have introduced a notion to block the regulations, but haven’t made an official move yet.