Practitioners' Corner Archives 2012

Low-Income People Want Access to Medicaid (December 19, 2012)

uninsuredHow do low-income people feel about not having health insurance? It is “scary,” and people feel “vulnerable” and “worried” according to a new report titled “Faces of the Medicaid Expansion: Experiences of Uninsured Adults who Could Gain Coverage.” These words will ring true for practitioners who work with low-income noncustodial parents, especially in Black and Latino communities where people are much more likely to not have access to affordable health insurance and healthcare.

The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured recently conducted focus groups in four cities to learn what low-income uninsured people think about the possibility of becoming newly eligible for Medicaid in 2014 as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The focus groups were held in: Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Tampa, Florida. These four states “currently have very limited Medicaid eligibility” for adults with dependent children, and do not offer Medicaid to non-disabled adults without dependent children — so-called “childless adults” which include the majority of typical noncustodial parents.

As a result of the US Supreme Court’s decision regarding the constitutionality of the ACA, each state’s policymakers have the option to expand Medicaid to all low-income adults or not. Many states’ governors have indicated they will expand Medicaid eligibility. However, several states’ policymakers have expressed significant opposition, particularly where black people are more likely to gain new access to health insurance, according to CFFPP’s analysis in our August 2012 Policy Briefing. Of the four states in the Kaiser focus groups, Nevada has indicated it will expand Medicaid to all low-income adults, but the governors of the more-populous states of Florida and Ohio remain undecided, and the governor of Texas has said he will not expand Medicaid. Black and Latino people in Florida and Texas are especially likely to not have health insurance.

Practitioners who work with low-income noncustodial parents can play a particularly important role by helping to educate parents about upcoming changes to Medicaid eligibility and dispelling misconceptions about the program that parents may have. According to the Kaiser report, most focus group participants were “unaware that the law will provide new health coverage options” and some “were skeptical that they could ever qualify for Medicaid since they have never been eligible in their adult lives.”

If people had access to health insurance through an expansion of the Medicaid program, “nearly all” of Kaiser’s focus-group participants said they would enroll in Medicaid. Additionally, low-income people in the focus groups said they “would seek preventive care … get a check-up and establish a relationship with a primary doctor” as well as seek care for ongoing and/or chronic physical and mental health issues.

Healthy Masculinity Action Project Offers Trainings for Town Halls (November 15, 2012)

healthy_mascThe Healthy Masculinity Action Project(HMAP) is a two-year effort “designed to raise the visibility of healthy masculinity and build a new generation of male leaders across the country who model non-violent, emotionally healthy masculinity, serving as positive change-makers in society.” Organizations, practitioners, and community members can become involved by forming action teams and organizing local town halls. HMAP offers training and resources to help make locally-organized events happen. A first step is to review the Healthy Masculinity Action Guide, and then contact info@healthymasculinity.org for technical assistance.

The HMAP initiative is a national partnership of six organizations, led by Men Can Stop Rape, and including the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Men Stopping Violence, Coach for America, the Women of Color Network, and A CALL TO MEN. The town hall meetings will happen in the spring of 2013, followed by a listening tour and the production of a documentary film about the project

Supportive Questions Can Identify and Mobilize Parents’ Strengths and Resources (October 18, 2012)

ecomapLow-income noncustodial parents may struggle to pay child support, while also trying to support themselves and others who may depend on them, such as other children, partners, family, and/or dependent adults. Such parents, in turn, may also receive support—financial, in-kind, or emotional—from people in their family, circle of friends, and/or community. For social service providers working with low-income parents to achieve their goals, identifying and mobilizing parents’ and families’ networks of support can be vital so that parents are able, in turn, to support other people that depend on them, especially their children.

Two supportive inquiry techniques can be helpful for practitioners working with noncustodial parents: relational questions, and solution-focused questions. Relational questions build on motivational interviewing techniques that many social workers and case managers already use. Solution-focused questions are based on techniques from solution-focused brief therapy and counseling. A useful summary of these inquiry techniques, with references for further reading, has been developed for community supervision professionals: “Implementing the Family Support Approach for Community Supervision” by Tracy G. Mullins and Christine Toner, published in 2008 by Family Justice (now a program at the Vera Institute of Justice), and theAmerican Probation and Parole Association (APPA). Given that many low-income noncustodial parents who owe child support potentially face sanctions similar to people under community supervision—including the threat of incarceration—this publication may be useful to social service providers working with low-income parents. See particularly Sections III and IV, pages 14 to 46.

The following are examples of the kind of relational and solution-focused questions that can be used to highlight and activate resources in a parent’s network of support:

Relational Questions

  • “Whom do you help?”
  • “Who asks you for help?”
  • “If things change in your life, who will be the first to notice?”

Solution-Focused Questions

  • “Were there times recently when this problem did not occur?”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how are things right now? What would have to happen for you to move up just one step?”
  • “I know things are tough now, but I am really interested in just how you have survived. How have you kept going in the face of these problems?”
  • “What will be different in your life, 12 months from now, that will tell you the problem is solved?”

Racial Stereotypes Can Affect Case Management Decisions (October 5, 2012)

sanctionsSocial service providers, including those working with low-income noncustodial parents, should be attentive to how case management decisions impacting their clients can be affected by bias due to racial stereotypes. A body of research from the last 20 years has shown that people of color are more negatively affected than white people in a variety of contexts—as job seekers, medical patients, and retail customers—when a person has a “marker” or cue that is consistent with a negative racial stereotype, for example if an African American man has a criminal record. This type of negative bias has been confirmed in welfare-to-work programs as well, based on research that interviewed case managers and reviewed administrative data.

Joe Soss, Richard Fording, and Sanford Schram published a book, “Disciplining the Poor,” in 2011, that gathers findings from many of their studies on social services for low-income people. The results of their research on how racial bias affects sanction decisions in case management are summarized in a freely-available presentation:“Sanctions and Welfare Reform: The Florida Project.” Although their focus was on welfare-to-work programs, their findings likely apply to other social service settings where clients can be penalized for not following program rules. This may especially be true in programs serving noncustodial parents that track attendance, job-search activities, work hours, and child support paid. Noncustodial parents of color in such programs, particularly African Americans, may be harshly affected if racial stereotypes influence case managers’ decisions. Sanctions in programs serving low-income noncustodial parents can in turn often lead to a punitive response from the child support enforcement system and/or the probation, parole, and criminal justice system.

The following are findings from the work of Soss, et al, that case managers working with noncustodial parents should be aware of:

  • “Minority clients, by contrast [to white clients], are vulnerable to the attachment of discrediting, stereotype-consistent markers, such as having multiple children and having received a prior sanction.” In other words, a black client who has a trait that confirms a negative stereotype, such as a criminal record or having children with multiple partners, is more likely to be treated more harshly than a white client with a similar trait.
  • Case managers of all races and ethnicities were just as likely to exhibit bias against minority clients
  • “More experienced case managers…are significantly less likely to impose sanctions” on any clients, whether white or minority.

Voting Resources for People With Criminal Records (September 20, 2012)

felon_voting“Can I vote if I have a criminal record?”

This is a question that some low-income noncustodial parents are likely to ask social service providers as the national elections approach. The laws that determine whether a person with a criminal conviction can vote vary greatly from state to state. Two states—Maine and Vermont—have no crime-related voting restrictions, allowing people to vote while incarcerated in state prison. All other states do impose voting restrictions, some of them very severe, and at least 12 states ban people for life from voting in certain circumstances. While state laws typically prohibit people with felony convictions from voting, some states also prohibit people who have been incarcerated for certain serious misdemeanors.

Although poll taxes were outlawed as unconstitutional in 1966, at least eight states require people who have been convicted of a felony to pay any fines, fees or restitution before their voting rights can be restored. These states include: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington. This is an additional financial burden for low-income noncustodial parents who are also struggling to support their children and families.

Two online resources can help noncustodial parents who have a criminal record determine their eligibility to vote. Both provide nationwide information about relevant state laws and regulations. The Institute for People With Criminal Records’ Felons Voting webpage includes summaries of each state’s laws and has links to state voter registration agencies. ProCon.org’s State Felon Voting Laws webpage includes information about both felony and misdemeanor restrictions as well as links to state statutes and voting restoration applications.

Fathers Advisory Council Contributes to Program Development (September 7, 2012) By Jayde Bennett, Research Intern

research_nursing_healthA recent article highlights the importance of noncustodial fathers contributing their perspectives to the design of programs that will serve other fathers like themselves. “Fatherhood Intervention Development in Collaboration With African American Non-Resident Fathers,” by Wrenetha Julion, et al., was published in the online version ofResearch in Nursing & Health. The article states that “because interventions developed in partnership with African American fathers not residing with their children are virtually nonexistent, existing interventions fail to address the multiple factors that constrain these fathers’ positive involvement with their children.” Moreover, “existing programs do not address the unique needs of African American fathers who are unmarried, no longer romantically involved with their children’s mothers, and non-resident.”

Lack of proximity to their children, societal and contextual barriers, lack of personal and interpersonal resources, and negative societal portrayals of “deadbeat dads” are a few of the many factors that impede African American fathers’ involvement with their children. In an effort to highlight the importance of African American noncustodial fathers’ input in the development of fatherhood intervention programs, Wrenetha A. Julion, Susan M. Breitenstein, and Donald Waddell sought to “engage community members in a Fathers’ Advisory Council to develop an intervention to help fathers surmount constraints to involvement with their children.” The Fathers Advisory Council participated in a series of 13 focus groups in which they “reviewed, gave meaning to, refined, and extended the findings from previous meetings in order to facilitate the design of a linguistically, culturally, and contextually appropriate fatherhood intervention.”

Because of how these federal incentive payments are calculated, it may be possible to favorably advocate for noncustodial parents in the following circumstances:

The program developed, Building Bridges to Fatherhood, “aimed at increasing fathers’ involvement with their preschool aged children (2-5 years), improving mother father relationships, and improving both father and child outcomes.” The program was divided into three core units, as agreed upon by the Fathers Advisory Council: “(a) Fatherhood, aimed at bolstering fathers’ knowledge and confidence; (b) Communication, aimed at helping fathers effectively interact with their children’s co-parent; and (c) Parenting, focused on nurturing and guiding young.”

Fathers Advisory Council members also had the opportunity to share their own struggles and challenges as noncustodial African American fathers. Some individuals described not wanting to be seen as a “good-time daddy”—which they defined as the type of father that only engages in “‘fun activities’ with his children and ‘seldom provides discipline and guidance’”—while others “expressed disdain with the concept of ‘time-outs,’” as they considered this discipline style to be “based upon White middle class parenting practices” and thus irrelevant to African American fathers.

The Council members agreed that take-home handouts would be a helpful resource for fathers involved in the program to share with other people who also care for their children, such as mothers and family relatives. Council members said that weekly practice assignments would be helpful in encouraging individuals to share their experiences and what they learned from their time with their children. The Council members were also “particularly proud of a handout that was developed to portray ‘keeping your cool,’” which meant that “despite being angry and frustrated with their children’s mothers, fathers needed to be able to remain calm so that they did not jeopardize their opportunities to spend time with their children.”

In addition, Fathers Advisory Council members agreed that the intervention program should “address the challenges of reestablishing relationships with children after release from correctional settings.”

When asked to reflect on their participation in the development of a program for African American fathers, Council members touched upon three major themes: (1) Personal benefit; (2) a sense of altruism they felt in helping others like themselves; and (3) valuing group meetings as a “viable means of giving and receiving support” from others with similar concerns.

The lessons learned through these focus groups provide valuable insights into the view of noncustodial African American fathers that extend “beyond stereotypical depictions of uninvolved, uninterested, financially negligent, and selfish men.” The men involved in the Fathers Advisory Council were dedicated to helping others like themselves. The input and involvement of Council members illustrate the importance of collaboration with members of the intended audience, as their contributions proved invaluable to the research and overall program development. The Building Bridges to Fatherhood program has been used in a small pilot study for testing for future acceptance and feasibility. Once the efficacy and sustainability of the program is established, the Building Bridges to Fatherhood intervention program will be able to address the needs of African American noncustodial fathers in a more expansive manner.

Federal Child Support Performance Incentives Can Inform Advocacy for Noncustodial Parents (August 16, 2012)

If you are a practitioner who works with low-income noncustodial parents, an understanding of how your local state’s child support enforcement agency receives federal funding may help you advocate for parents in certain circumstances.

State child support enforcement agencies receive a significant portion of their funding from performance-based incentives that measure various aspects of each state’s child support program. For example: the ratio of current child support collected to the amount owed; and the percentage of paternities established for children with child support cases born to unmarried parents. The federal “Child Support Enforcement FY 2010 Preliminary Report” has a summary of the formulasused to determine these incentive payments to states.

The federal incentive payments that states receive account for anywhere from 7% to 54% of each state’s child support enforcement agency budget, according to a 2007 report from the Congressional Research Service. The national average is 25%. In fiscal year 2010, the combined federal incentive payments to the states amounted to $504 million.

Because of how these federal incentive payments are calculated, it may be possible to favorably advocate for noncustodial parents in the following circumstances:

Downward modification of a current support order to a more appropriate amount. The federal formulas provide an incentive to state enforcement agencies to decrease the amount of current child support that a parent owes, especially when this is likely to increase the amount that the parent actually pays. A training document for child support workers in Pennsylvania called Federal Incentives – Myths & Facts” makes this point clearly: “One large non-paying order can have a tremendous impact.” In other words, smaller orders help local child support agency’s bottom line, whether that support is paid or not, by improving the ratio of child support owed to child support paid. This circumstance is especially common among low-income noncustodial parents.

Closing paternity and order-establishment cases quickly if the custodial parent cannot be located, or if the child has reached the age of emancipation. These circumstances will be less common, but practitioners should be aware that child support enforcement has an incentive to close these cases because it will improve performance for federal funding. The Pennsylvania training cited above notes that “many states have experienced substantial success… through case clean-up and case closure.”

Are Fewer Noncustodial Parents Being Threatened with Jail in Your Community? (August 2, 2012)

If you work with noncustodial parents who owe child support, CFFPP would like to request your reply to the following questions:

  • Are fewer noncustodial parents being threatened with jail time for non-payment of child support in your community?
  • Have you seen changes, either positive or negative, in the last year regarding child support enforcement’s use of the threat of incarceration?
  • Has your local child support agency contacted your organization, program, or the parents you work with, about changes regarding the threat of jail time?

Please send your responses to the above questions by email to Nino Rodriguez, CFFPP’s program and policy specialist, at nrodriguez@cffpp.org.

One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Turner v. Rogers, holding that states must have procedural safeguards in place to determine whether or not an unrepresented parent, threatened with civil contempt and jail time for not paying child support, in fact has the ability to pay. CFFPP’s co-director Jacquelyn Boggess has written analysis of Turner both before the case was heard and after the decision.

The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), recently issued guidance to state child support enforcement agencies recommending new procedures before a noncustodial parent is threatened with jail time. In summary, these recommendations are:

  • “Cases Should Be Individually Reviewed … Before Referring or Initiating Civil Contempt Proceedings that Can Lead to Incarceration”
  • “The Individual Review Should Examine Actual and Present Ability to Comply”
  • “Notice Should Be Provided to the Obligor that ‘Ability to Pay’ is a Critical Issue in the Contempt Proceeding”
  • “Judicial Procedures Should Provide an Opportunity to Be Heard on the Issue of Ability to Pay and Result in Express Court Findings”

Survey Seeks Fatherhood Program Information (June 14, 2012)

CRFCFW_logoIf you are a practitioner who runs a program for low-income noncustodial parents, or have run such a program in the past, please consider taking part in the Fatherhood Program Survey. This survey is being conducted by the Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being(CRFCFW) at the Columbia University School of Social Work as part of a larger research project: the Survey of the Responsible Fatherhood Field. According to the survey introduction, “more than a decade has passed since the last such comprehensive review of the field.” The Fatherhood Program Survey includes questions about the types of services that programs offer, funding sources and stability, data tracking and evaluation, and program and organizational infrastructure.

Access to Medical Care Decreases, but Some States’ Programs Still Open (June 1, 2012)

The typical low-income noncustodial parent is not eligible for subsidized healthcare insurance, such as Medicaid or similar state-funded programs, in the large majority of states because such parents do not have a dependent child in their household. Practitioners working to find healthcare for noncustodial parents may want to consider the medical assistance programs that are accepting new enrollees in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

healthcare-access-declinePeople who do not have health insurance are much more likely to have unmet health needs, and to not receive routine medical and dental checkups—and the problem has gotten much worse in the last ten years. The title of a new report from the Urban Institute bluntly sums it up:“Virtually Every State Experienced Deteriorating Access to Care for Adults over the Past Decade.”

Across the nation, about 48% of uninsured adults in 2010 reported they “were not able to see a doctor when needed due to cost.” In some states, the rate of unmet health needs among uninsured people was much higher, especially in the South (57% in Kentucky; 56% in Florida, Tennessee and Virginia; 55% in Georgia and West Virginia; 53% in Alabama; and 52% in Mississippi) and to a lesser extent in the Midwest (53% in Indiana, and 51% in Illinois and Ohio). Larger-than-average increases in unmet needs were experienced in Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Oklahoma.

Noncustodial parents who do not have a dependent child living with them—so-called “childless adults”—may be eligible to enroll in Medicaid or other state-funded medical assistance programs in 17 states and the District of Columbia. A useful comparison of state programs’ eligibility criteria can be found at the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Statehealthfacts.org website.

Five states, plus D.C., offer Medicaid or programs with similar benefits for individuals, New York being the most populous of these states and offering medical assistance to those with income up to 100% of the federal poverty level. Eleven states, plus D.C., have medical assistance programs with more limited benefits, California being the largest among them, offering benefits to those with income up to 200% of the poverty level. Lastly, four states offer limited assistance for paying health insurance premiums, typically with a work-related requirement; for example, Oklahoma’s program offers limited coverage for individuals working for a small employer, who are self-employed, or who are unemployed and actively looking for work, among other categories.

New Studies Recommend Improvements to Employment Programs (May 17, 2012)

Two recent reports from MDRC provide recommendations that may be valuable for practitioners working with low-income noncustodial parents to find and maintain employment. The reports examine the final results from several demonstration programs in the past decade that aimed to improve employment among people facing difficult obstacles. “What Strategies Work for the Hard-to-Employ?” focuses mostly on public assistance recipients, but also on former prisoners, who are the focus of “Returning to Work After Prison.” Although these reports do not specifically address the challenges facing low-income noncustodial parents who owe child support, the lessons learned may be useful for the design and implementation of programs working to improve the employment prospects of such parents.

trans_jobs_chartTransitional jobs—short-term subsidized jobs with support services—appear to be an effective way to temporarily boost employment among people who might otherwise not have worked, for example former prisoners. It should be noted, however, that these programs did not increase participants’ chances of finding and maintaining unsubsidized regular employment in the long term. As can be seen in the chart, in one program for former prisoners, the Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration, both program participants and members of a control group had very low employment rates at the end of two years.

As noted in the “What Strategies Work…” report, in several of the programs, a large majority of the people in the control groups “were employed at some point,” suggesting that “sustaining employment was the more frequent challenge.” The following are recommendations for how to improve such programs combined from both MDRC reports:

  • Use vocational, “direct occupational,” and “industry-specific training” to help people get and keep better jobs.
  • Place people “into subsidized jobs with private employers with the possibility of rolling over directly onto the employer’s payroll when the subsidy ends.”
  • Extend the length of time of the job subsidy.

Two current federal programs will be testing improvements to past transitional jobs programs: the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Subsidized and Transitional Employment Demonstration (STED), and the Department of Labor’sEnhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration (ETJD).

Local Worker Justice Organizations Can Help Practitioners and Noncustodial Parents Fight Wage Theft (May 4, 2012)

The pressure to find and keep a job can be enormous for low-income noncustodial parents who owe child support. In addition to the potential consequences of child support enforcement, such as losing a driver’s license or going to jail, low-income parents may also be vulnerable to exploitation by employers who violate labor and employment laws. Parents in this situation may decide to endure workplace violations in order to avoid stricter child support enforcement.

Wage theft and other workplace violations are “severe and widespread in the low-wage labor market,” according to a groundbreaking 2008 report titled “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers.” The report surveyed thousands of low-wage workers and found that 26% were paid less than the minimum wage in the prior week, and that 76% of those who worked overtime were not paid the required overtime rate. There were also significant racial and ethnic disparities: Latino workers were four times more likely to experience a minimum wage violation than white workers, and U.S.-born black workers were three times more likely to experience a wage violation than white workers. The report estimated that the typical full-time worker loses $2,634 per year to wage theft, or about 15% of their earned income.

worker_justice_groupsPractitioners and parents who want to advocate for workplace rights, either for an individual or for their wider community, can find local worker justice organizations using an interactive map at WageTheft.org. The map includes about 200 local organizations, including both worker centers and legal clinics, that offer services and advocacy to enforce labor and employment laws. Below is a sampling of these organizations from around the country.

California – In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center and the Centro Legal de la Raza both offer workers’ rights clinics.

Florida – The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami (ROC-Miami) supports workers who “face injustice in their restaurant workplace.”

Illinois – The Chicago area has several organizations focused on workers’ rights, including: Chicago Workers’ Collaborative; The University of Chicago Law School’sEmployment Discrimination Project; the Chicago Legal Clinic; and Warehouse Workers for Justice.

Louisiana – The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice offers legal support services, and Loyola University New Orleans’ Workplace Justice Project offers services for eligible clients.

Texas – The Equal Justice Center in Austin and San Antonio offers help with unpaid wages. The Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center offers biweekly Workers Rights Workshops, and leads the Down with Wage Theft Campaign. The campaign’s website has additional wage theft facts and answers to frequently asked questionsthat can be useful for parents and practitioners in any city.

FATHER Project Uses New Grant and Partnerships to Expand Services (April 18, 2012)

goodwill_fatherGuy Bowling, the manager of the Minneapolis-based FATHER Projectsays he is often asked “When will you have a FATHER Project in our community?” His answer to that question is “Right now!”—in four new communities serving seven counties across Minnesota. The FATHER Project, a 13-year-old program run by Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota, is using its recent Responsible Fatherhood grant of more than $1.7 million to replicate and expand its comprehensive services for noncustodial parents to the areas of Park Rapids, Rochester, St. Cloud and St. Paul.

According to Guy Bowling, the expansion is the outgrowth of a strategic plan developed in 2008 to accommodate the growing number of parents asking for services, and to reach diverse cultural communities across the state. Ultimately, he hopes to have a FATHER Project in each of the more than 20 Goodwill stores in Minnesota. He said, “We know that fathers around the state have similar needs… We want to reach out and stretch ourselves further, even in the rural communities.”

Two of the new service locations, in St. Cloud and St. Paul, are “expansion sites” because the program will build on existing Goodwill staff and infrastructure. The other two new locations, in Park Rapids and Rochester, are “replication sites” that will be hosted by partnering organizations. These partnerships were facilitated by theMinnesota Fathers and Families Network (MFFN), which had mobilized several leadership circles around the state to advocate for fathers’ support services. One of MFFN’s leadership circles was in Park Rapids, where the FATHER Project is now partnering with St. Joseph’s Area Health Services. The other leadership circle was in Rochester, where Family Service Rochester is the partner. Guy Bowling notes that “We wanted to partner with agencies that are interested and will take the lead to be the hub for services. You need to start with a hub for fathers to come to… Doing a one-stop shop really works well.”

Federal Benefits Could be Completely Garnished for Child Support Debt in 2013 (April 5, 2012)

Paper checks for some federal benefits will be eliminated in favor of electronic payments starting in March, 2013, due to a new Treasury Department policy. For noncustodial parents who owe child support, 100% of these benefits payments could potentially be garnished and seized by local child support enforcement authorities.The Associated Press reported that “Once paper checks are eliminated, about 275,000 people could lose access to all their income…”

The new policy will affect noncustodial parents who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, and/or Social Security, and also owe child support. For individuals who receive these federal benefits, the payments may be most, if not all, of their monthly income. Currently, individuals can protect their minimal income from garnishment by cashing paper checks and never depositing the funds into a bank account. The new Treasury policy would require direct deposits into either a bank account or a federally-authorized electronic benefits card, exposing the funds to child support garnishment.

nclc_logoPractitioners working with noncustodial parents who will be affected by this policy may consider contacting both national and local advocacy organizations that are working to reverse this rule. The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) submitted a letter to the Social Security Administration on February 12, 2012, supported by 12 other national organizations, and 60 local advocacy organizations from 14 states. Service providers, advocates, and noncustodial parents can either contact the NCLC directly about this effort (Margot Saunders, msaunders@nclc.org), or find a local advocacy organization listed onpages 5 and 6 of NCLC’s letter.

Economic Security Database Recommends Significantly Higher Wages (March 15, 2012)

Practitioners working with low-income parents who owe child support often focus first on helping the parent get an income—any income—frequently at the minimum wage. A second goal is working toward self-sufficiency—increasing the parent’s income to a living wage. Lastly, the focus may turn toward building the parent’s economic security—increasing income so that the parent can save for emergencies and retirement, afford health insurance and medical expenses, and support their children and/or families. But what hourly wages are enough to achieve economic security? As shown below, there is a wide gap between the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and economic security wages for parents paying child support, which range from $17 to $25 per hour or more in different parts of the country.

economic-security-databaseThe Economic Security Database is a new online tool that practitioners, noncustodial parents, and their advocates, can use to determine what level of wages are needed to not just make ends meet, but to achieve economic security. The website was developed by Wider Opportunities for Women, and includes detailed information for major cities and all counties in 16 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Below is a sample from the Economic Security Database showing the recommended monthly budget for a single working person who has a job with health benefits in four areas across the country. Note that this budget does not include any childcare expenses or child support—a topic addressed below.

securitytable_1

If a parent is paying child support, the economic security budgets above must be significantly increased. Although child support guidelines vary from state to state, a parent paying child support for two children often pays about 25% of their income. This means that the recommended wages listed above are only 75% of the income that a parent really needs to earn. To calculate the larger income, take the “Annual Total” or “Hourly Wage” listed in the Economic Security Database and divide by 75 percent. As is shown below, wages that provide economic security for noncustodial parents paying child support range from about $17 to $25 per hour, or about $35,000 to $53,000 per year:

securitytable_2

Legal Clinic Overview Presented by Fathers’ Support Center, St. Louis (March 2, 2012)

fsc_legal_clinicThe Fathers’ Support Center, St. Louis (FSC), operates a legal clinic that can serve as a model for practitioners seeking to provide legal services to low-income noncustodial parents. The clinic offers legal services related to paternity, child support order modification, visitation, expungement of criminal records, and custody if the child is at risk of placement into the child welfare system. The clinic is now in its second year of operation, and includes one staff attorney who is a former judge, one contract attorney who is a current judge, two law students, and a social worker / intake specialist.

FSC’s Halbert Sullivan, CEO, and Chester Deanes, Director of Community Outreach, gave a presentation about starting up and operating the legal clinic at the recent 13th Annual National Fatherhood & Families Conference in Los Angeles. The process of starting the clinic included researching the legal needs of low-income noncustodial parents in St. Louis, and confirming the lack of affordable services (see slides 8 and 9). The presentation also outlines FSC’s operating goals for the clinic over different time frames, the social impacts measured, and potential risks to the larger organization of operating this legal service.

The clinic offers two levels of legal services depending on whether the client’s fees are subsidized. Some of the clinic’s low-income clients have their fees subsidized by federal funding and receive legal consulting, such as help filling pro se forms, but an FSC attorney cannot represent that person in court. Other clients who are able to pay the clinic’s discounted fees can be represented by an FSC attorney in court.

Hiring Veterans Promoted by Work Opportunity Tax Credit (February 20, 2012)

hire_heroVeterans are often among the low-income noncustodial parents that practitioners work with. Finding employers with job openings and placing parents into those jobs is typically a top priority for practitioners, whether or not “job developer” is part of their official job description. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) currently offers tax incentives to employers for hiring veterans that meet a variety of criteria. Practitioners working to place veterans into job openings may find that promoting the WOTC to potential employers can be a way to boost veterans’ chances of being hired.

The Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 expanded the Work Opportunity Tax Credit’s eligibility criteria for hiring veterans, and extended the program through the end of 2012. The following is from the Department of Labor’s summary of the WOTC’s veterans target groups:

  • Veterans receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, or food stamps) – $2,400 maximum tax credit.
  • Veterans unemployed longer than 4 weeks – $2,400 maximum tax credit.
  • Veterans unemployed longer than 6 months – $5,600 maximum tax credit.
  • Veterans with a service-connected disability – $4,800 maximum credit.
  • Veterans with a service-connected disability who have been unemployed for longer than 6 months – $9,600 maximum tax credit.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit was established in 1996 and targeted various groups for hiring incentives, such as SNAP recipients, and recent ex-felons, among others. With the exception of the veterans groups described above, the WOTC program expired at the end of 2011.

Assets & Opportunity Scorecard Can Link Practitioners to Local Advocacy Efforts (February 3, 2012)

The Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, newly updated for 2012, contains a wealth of information about the financial security of people in each state across the nation. For practitioners working to increase the economic security of low-income parents and their families, the Scorecard website can also serve as a gateway to becoming involved in the advocacy efforts of statewide coalitions and local organizations.

assets-and-opportunitiesClicking on the Scorecard map displays a state score card showing how that state ranks in five issue areas: financial assets and income; businesses and jobs; housing and homeownership; health care; and education. From this display, clicking on “view all state data” links to a page featuring state-specific policy highlights, financial security data, and links to statewide and local organizations. The following are examples of current advocacy efforts in three states that pracitioners working with low-income parents may consider becoming involved with:

The Scorecard for Illinois gives that state a grade of “C” for issues related to businesses and jobs. For example, the percentage of low-wage jobs in Illinois is 20.3%, though this is somewhat better than the national average. The Illinois scorecard also links to a statewide organization that is working on this and related issues: the Illinois Asset Building Group’s “Take Action” webpage includes links topetitions to raise the minimum wage in Illinois from $8.25 per hour to $10.65 an hour by 2014.

The Scorecard for Texas lists a grade of “D” for issues relating to financial assets and income. For example, the percentages of people in Texas who are unbanked or underbanked are 11.7% and 24.1% respectively, among the highest rates in the nation. In regard to state policy for matched-savings programs, such as Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), the Scorecard states that Texas did not provide funding in fiscal year 2011. A statewide organization working on these and other asset-building issues is RAISE Texas. Among their action campaigns are: theMatched Savings Accounts campaign, which seeks to “to strengthen and expand matched and incentivized savings programs in Texas;” and the Alternative Small Dollar Loan Products Campaign, which seeks to promote fair lending standards that counter the high interest rates found at payday and auto-title lenders. Pracitioners in Texas can sign up to join this and other action campaigns.

Lastly, the Scorecard for Alabama gives it a rank of 49, near the very bottom of all the states. The Alabama Asset Building Coalition is working to increase financial stability for both individuals and families in that state. Practitioners in Alabama who would like to get involved can take a survey that the coalition will use to develop a statewide policy agenda. This agenda may include issues such as how sales tax affects people who have low-incomes, as well as creating a state affordable housing trust fund.

Video from House of Ruth Maryland Features Fathers Speaking to End Domestic Violence (January 19, 2012)

A short video titled “Nobody Ever Earned It,” from the House of Ruth Maryland and the Maryland Department of Human Resources, highlights that “Fathers have a uniquely powerful role in ending violence against women.” The video features five fathers who were charged with domestic violence—and who in some cases also witnessed domestic violence and experienced abuse as children. The fathers are recent graduates of the House of Ruth Maryland’s Abuser Intervention Program, the Gateway Project. The video was created to be shown in Department of Social Service agencies throughout Maryland, and the Gateway Project will use it to introduce the topic of parenting in its groups with men.house_of_ruth_1

The following are two powerful testimonies from fathers, both of whom were charged with second degree domestic violence assault:

“I seen my father choke my mother. I seen my father throw my mother down the steps when I was little. That’s not a man, that’s not, that’s a monster. … I just want [my daughter] to have a blessed life, I want her to have a beautiful life. I guess I’ve been through so many things in life where’s though it kinda showed me that a peaceful life is something to be honored.”

house_of_ruth_2“…see this one time, and it was so ugly, and my daughter told me, ‘Why would you do that?’ I tell her, ‘I’m sorry for what you saw, I’m sorry for what I’ve done.’ I don’t want them to ever go through nothing like that. … I talk to them more, comfort them more, closer to them more. I done took this violent image, and I don’t have it up no more.”

The video concludes with the message: “When men beat on women, kids get hurt.”

This video is an example of the kind of work that current recipients of federal responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage grants can do in partnership with domestic violence experts and service providers. This project was funded by a federal responsible fatherhood grant authorized by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The House of Ruth Maryland served as the domestic violence partner for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services’ Strong Fathers, Strong Families Project.

Charts Illustrate Scarcity of Jobs, Especially in Industries That Hire People of Color (January 6, 2012)

Practitioners working with low-income noncustodial parents know first-hand the challenges of helping parents find job openings, then securing and maintaining employment. Charts from the Economic Policy Institute’s State of Working America website illustrate that more than two years after the end of the Great Recession, there are still simply “Not enough jobs for too many people,” and that there are even less jobs in the industries that typically hire low-income people of color.

not_enough_job_too_many_peopleThe chart at right compares the number of people who are unemployed to the number of job openings—what the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) calls the “job-seekers ratio.” Although the job-seekers ratio has declined since the end of the Great Recession—4.3 to 1, as of October 2011—there were still more than four job-seekers for every job opening. EPI reports:

“A job-seekers ratio of more than 4-to-1 means that for more than three out of four unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs. In October [2011], there were 10.6 million more unemployed workers than job openings.”

 

The lack of job openings is larger in industries that typically hire low-income people of color. Another chartillustrates that the job-seekers ratio is about 4.5 to 1 in the “other services” industries, about 4.6 to 1 in the wholesale and retail trades, about 4.7 to 1 in the transportation, utilities, leisure and hospitality industries, and a very large 6.4 to 1 ratio in the manufacturing industry.

Although the largest job-seekers ratio in this chart—18.5 to 1—is in the construction industry, low-income people of color typically are much less likely to secure these higher-paying jobs, probably due to discrimination and occupational segregation. For more information, see EPI’s “Whiter Jobs, Higher Wages” and CFFPP’s summary of the same report in our April 2011 Policy Briefing that highlights recommendations relevant to practitioners working with low-income noncustodial parents.

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