October 22, 2020

Van Hollen, Wyden, Davis Introduce Legislation to Improve Federal Programs to Promote Healthy Relationships and Financial Stability for Low-Income Families

Legislation Would End Harmful Federal Policy that Takes Child Support Money out of the Hands of Families

 Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Representative Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced legislation to make important improvements to our nation’s child support program to ensure that low-income children and families get the financial support they need. The current child support program aims to ensure that all non-custodial parents contribute financially to their children. However, right now, if families receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance, the government takes a cut of child support paid from noncustodial parents to recoup the costs of that assistance, depriving the lowest income families of this much-needed financial support and making it more difficult to maintain healthy co-parenting relationships. The Senators’ new legislation would address these issues while also reauthorizing the Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood grant program to help strengthen parents’ relationships with each other and their children. 

“Parents play a critical role in their children’s lives. And even when parents are not living with their child, strengthening their relationship can prove vital to the child’s well-being. But the current child support program falls short of what our children and our families need and can actually take money away from families. To fully invest in our children, we must fix it. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation to modernize and improve these programs to make them work better for families. I urge the Senate to take action on this common-sense proposal, and I will keep fighting to provide the support and resources our children need to succeed,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“Families receiving TANF shouldn’t be penalized for needing help,” Senator Wyden said. “When families are depending on social services to make ends meet, it’s cruel to then turn around and take child support payments intended to help children to pay back the state and federal governments for TANF aid. This bill would not only end cost recovery for good, it would bolster child support programs to help encourage healthy relationships between parents and their children, regardless of custody status.” 

“This bill helps custodial and non-custodial parents maintain positive, healthy relationships with each other and their children,” said Representative Davis, Chairman of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee.  “Directing child support to families and foster youth rather than governments further improves the economic well-being of children. This bill improves federal policy to improve child development and strengthen families.” 

The Strengthening Families for Success Act would:

  • Modernize child support by completely eliminating cost recovery for TANF, Title IV-E foster care maintenance payments, and Medicaid birth costs by Fiscal Year 2026 while providing bridge funding to states to help implement these changes, incentivizing uncontested parenting time agreements through a new 5-year pilot program, and encouraging closure of unnecessary enforcement referrals
  • Reauthorize the Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) grant program for 5 years (through Fiscal Year 2025) and make improvements to promote coordination and partnership with domestic violence shelter and service organizations, establish infrastructure for HMRF grantees to measure outcomes and receive technical assistance, and support HMRF programs and ensure continuity of services during a public health emergency
  • Address the COVID-19 public health emergency’s impact on the child support program and families by providing emergency flexibility for the programs during the pandemic and exempting 2020 Economic Income Payments from the CARES Act from reduction or offset 

The Strengthening Families for Success Act is endorsed by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), and Center for Urban Families. 

“The Strengthening Families for Success Act would ensure that child support paid by non-custodial parents supports their children, not state budgets,” said Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “The bill is particularly important during a brutal recession and has critical racial equity implications due to racial biases in the labor market and justice system.” 

“CWLA supports the Strengthening Families for Success Act of 2020.  We feel the legislation takes an important step in making reforms to the nation's child support system including provisions that can affect children and families involved with the foster care system.  We look forward to working with the Congress in advancing these critical programs that have such a large impact on some of our poorest families,” said Chris James-Brown, President & CEO of the Child Welfare League of America. 

“America’s greatest assets are its children whose promise is tied to the success of their parents. Families who need temporary public benefits support often engage the child support system operating under outdated and often punitive policies and practices. The Strengthening Families for Success Act of 2020 modernizes the child support program; invests in services for responsible fathering and marriage education; and addresses the COVID-19 public health emergency’s impact on the child support program. I fully endorse this important legislation and look forward to its positive impact on fathers and families,” said Joseph Jones, the Founder/CEO of the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, MD. 

“This bill ensures that child support payments are used to support children, and not kept as government revenues,” said Vicki Turetsky, former Commissioner for the Office of Child Support Enforcement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Text of the bill can be found here

A one-page summary of the bill can be found here

Section-by-section summary of the bill can be found here.