State budget cuts would imperil child support collectionThousands of Dane County single moms and their children will have a tougher time obtaining vital child support payments if the state cuts funds for the agency that goes after deadbeat dads, local officials say.
By: By Steven Verburg, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Thousands of Dane County single moms and their children will have a tougher time obtaining vital child support payments if the state cuts funds for the agency that goes after deadbeat dads, local officials say.
"There are a lot of challenges posed by this budget, but this is an issue that affects an extremely vulnerable population," said County Executive Joe Parisi. "These are kids with just one parent who are helped tremendously by this program, which actually prevents people from having to seek government assistance because it holds the absent parent responsible."
The Legislature's budget committee has approved Gov. Scott Walker's proposal for a reduction that would mean 10 layoffs and a reduction of $8 million in the money collected for 6,000 families, Parisi said.
Committee co-chair Rep. Robin Vos said the state has been compensating for cuts in federal aid for several years, and it can't continue.
"If we begin to say we make up for everybody else's cuts we would never be able to balance our budget," said Vos, R-Rochester. "I'd like to see the possibility of finding more efficient ways of doing the job instead of just assuming that a reduction in funding means a reduction in services."
Some dads tough to track
It can take a great deal of time to track down an absentee parent, then prove paternity and obtain court orders to ensure regular support payments, said Brad Logsdon, president of the Wisconsin Child Support Enforcement Association.
Sometimes an absentee father makes the task more difficult by moving a long distance away.
Fathers who start making payments soon after a child's birth are more likely to accept responsibility and provide steady support to the child through high school graduation, said Logsdon, who is legal director of the Dane County Child Support Agency.
"A lot of these guys are willing once we find them and they know they have a kid," Logsdon said.
If the absent parent -- almost always the father -- isn't found, it's more likely that the mother and child will end up needing more government assistance, he said.
"The child support program is rated as one of the most effective at raising kids out of poverty," Logsdon said.
Since 2004, the Dane County agency's caseload has increased 25 percent to about 23,000 families, and only one employee has been added to its staff of about 45, Logsdon said.
Wisconsin child support agencies collect almost $7 for every $1 in government spending, much higher than the national average, according to the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
"The provisions in the budget are going to cause a huge drop-off in the collections," said Jon Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Families and Children.
The state last year approved enough funding to maintain status quo for Wisconsin child support agencies through July 1, 2012. After that, under the two-year budget being decided now, the state's $8.5 million a year allocation would drop to $4.25 million.
Because the federal government pays nearly $2 for every $1 the state kicks in, the reduction in state spending will cost Wisconsin about $8 million in federal matching funds, Logsdon said.
"It's just going to fundamentally change the way we do business," he said. "We are already frankly pretty stretched. The economy makes our job much more challenging. Now when they say they can't get work, a lot of times it's the truth. It's more work to separate the deadbeats from the dead-brokes."
At one time, the federal government contributed much more, awarding basic grants tied to the efficiency of each state's program, and then adding the matching funds.
That changed with the enactment of the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Since then, except for 12 months when the 2009 federal stimulus program restored the funding, the state offset some of the losses.
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