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Opinion: Supporting children’s futures with child support cooperation

  

Childhood is too precious to be defined by poverty’s questions — where you’ll find your next meal, if you’ll have a roof over your head, or if your family will have enough money to put clothes on your back.

For too many children in our state, this is their normal, and it can have a negative impact on their health, their ability to learn, and their financial and housing security as adults. Without early intervention, childhood poverty can become a lifetime of poverty. In a country as prosperous and great as ours, this should be unthinkable. 

State Rep. Dottie Bailey

One of the ways we can address this issue head on is by putting our money where our mouth is — child support money, that is. Missing child support payments from absent parents takes a major toll on already struggling families and puts an even larger strain on safety net programs. 

Here in Missouri, there are more than 138,000 families on food stamps (also known as SNAP) that only have one parent at home. Of those, only 26 percent receive child support. That means millions of dollars aren’t going to the children who need them. But what if we made child support cooperation a condition of eligibility for welfare programs like food stamps? 

My legislation, HB 1597, would put in place child support cooperation requirements for our state’s food stamp program. This means that if a parent, caretaker relative, putative father, or identified noncustodial parent wants to qualify for food stamps, they must be willing to cooperate with Missouri’s child support program.

There is a “good cause” exemption for when contact with the non-custodial parent is not in the child’s best interest. Additionally, if their parents aren’t cooperating, the children themselves won’t be removed from any programs or denied food assistance.

It’s not an entirely new concept for our state. We already have a child support cooperation requirement for eligibility in cash assistance. My bill simply extends this requirement so there is parity in our welfare programs, and we can hold more people accountable for their court-mandated child support payments. 

This simple requirement goes a long way. By linking food stamps and other welfare programs to child support cooperation, families will see additional income each year, and that lowers the likelihood they will need to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, public housing, rent subsidies, or other government assistance programs.

If child support cooperation were enacted in Missouri, there would be a more than $7 million increase in child support collections. For families barely scraping by, this money is the difference between a future of poverty and a future of self-sufficiency. Our state has an opportunity here to make real, positive changes in people’s lives.

I am committed to ensuring that our state’s children have a safe and stable childhood. In this new legislative term, I ask my colleagues to join me in calling for simple reforms that close the child support gap and protect Missouri’s young people. Childhood is precious — don’t let it be defined by poverty. There’s too much at stake.