Census: 2M Dads Didn't Pay Support

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 2 million mothers raising children without a father in the home in 1997 failed to get any child support payments owed them by the absentee parent, the Census Bureau reported.

Advocacy groups contend that number alone highlights glaring weaknesses of a child support system in transition, in spite of other census figures that show more custodial parents were getting full-time jobs and leaving public assistance programs.

Of the 6.3 million U.S. mothers owed child support from absentee fathers in 1997, roughly 30 percent or 1.99 million women, did not receive any payments, according to the Census data released Friday. In 1993, 1.72 million women owed support, or 29 percent, did not receive payments.

About 42 percent, or 289,000 of the 674,000 fathers owed child support in 1997 from absentee mothers did not receive any payments. That was down from 353,000 deadbeat mothers, or 45 percent, in 1993, in the same category.

The Census survey, taken every two years, is the nation's only estimate of all child support paid and owed across the country, including private agreements between parents. The Department of Health and Human Services has more recent figures, but only tracks cases that go through government collections systems.

``There have been some improvements in child support enforcement but it hasn't done enough,'' said Debbi Weinstein of the Children's Defense Fund.

``When you look at the figures of how much families with child support get, that can mean the difference between safe neighborhood or dangerous neighborhood, when it's collected,'' she said.

Child support enforcement was overhauled in 1996 as part of welfare reform. Since then there have been other new outreach initiatives — such as helping fathers who cannot afford to pay child support find jobs — that improved the situation, HHS spokesman Michael Kharfen said.

The full effects of reform won't be seen until results from the 1999 survey come out next year since many states took years to make necessary changes, Kharfen said.

``It shows early efforts to improving the child support system,'' he said. ``But this is still very encouraging news which is consistent with what we're seeing.''

``How much time are we supposed to give it, though?'' countered Bordy Brilling of Phoenix, who has been divorced since 1992 and has custody of two teen-age daughters. ``It's been a constant battle through the years'' getting child support from her husband in Georgia. He is now battling cancer.

``We don't know how it all works, and that's part of our frustration,'' said Philene O'Keefe, of Indian Hills, Nev. Since divorcing in 1998 and gaining custody of her 3-year-old daughter, O'Keefe says she received a child support check this week, the first one since January.

The report also said:

—45 percent of mothers living in poverty who were owed child support in 1997 received no payments, compared with 35 percent of impoverished mothers owed support in 1993.

—51.3 percent of all custodial parents had year-round, full-time jobs in 1997, up from 45.6 percent in 1993.

—the percentage of all custodial parents participating in at least one public assistance program such as food stamps or Medicaid fell to 34 percent in 1997, from 40.6 percent in 1993.

—the proportion of all custodial parents receiving all the payments they were due increased from 34.1 percent in 1993 to 40.8 percent in 1997.

Sherry Steisel, human services director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, attributed the positive numbers to the good economy, and efforts to improve child support on the state level that began even before the 1996 reforms.

``We see the participation in public programs declining, and an increase in the number of agreements which is the first step in getting child support acknowledged,'' she said.


On the Net: Census Bureau site: http://www.census.gov/