October 31, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed one bill that would have sent more child support to children and another that would have reduced the interest burden on child support arrears (ABC10, 10/16/19). I first wrote about those bills here, shortly after they’d passed the state legislature.
In the Golden State, if a custodial parent receives welfare benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the non-custodial parent pays child support, the custodial parent only receives $50 of the child support. The rest goes to the state to reimburse it for its expenditure of welfare benefits. Last time I mentioned the case of Ronnell Hampton.
When he was growing up, Ronnell Hampton’s father wrote a check every month for $600 for child support. But because Hampton and his mother lived in California, they only ever saw $50 of that per month.
Now, if you’re poor enough to need TANF benefits, you’re probably poor enough to need all that child support. Indeed, as I said in my previous piece on the two bills,
To add a bit of perspective, on average nationwide, families of three who received benefits under the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program, received about $486 per month (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/21/19). Of course that would have been higher in California, since the Golden State also has among the highest costs of living in the country. Whatever the exact figure received by Hampton’s family in TANF benefits, the taking of all child support except $50 per month effectively capped earnings at the amount of those benefits plus $50. That was true regardless of the amount his father paid. The official poverty level for that family of three is a little under $1,800 per month. In California, of course, it’s higher.
So if Hampton’s mother received the national average of $486 per month in TANF benefits, her total take with child support would have been just $536 instead of almost $1,100 if she’d received all the child support Dad paid. That’s less than one-third of the national poverty rate for a family of three that’s significantly higher in California.
The bill Newsom vetoed would have only raised the amount received by the custodial parent to $100 from $50, but even that pinch-penny amount proved too much for the governor. Last time I pointed out that revenue streams into the state treasury looked to be the issue with the bill. In its original form, children with parents on welfare would have received all the money their NC parents paid, but that was scaled back to just $100.
The first [bill] would direct the first $100 – instead of the first $50 - of each child support payment to the child’s family and still reserve the rest to the state. In other words, the California Legislature still prefers revenue for the state’s general fund over money for kids.
The original bill would have sent all support payments to the children for whom they were intended, but lawmakers eyed the money brought into state coffers from non-custodial parents and capped the amount at just $100.
And that issue – money for the state – proved to be exactly what was most important to Newsom.
The proposal to “pass through” more child support money to families, SB337, would “lead to an estimated revenue loss of millions of dollars outside the budget process,” the governor wrote in announcing the vetoes.
The other bill, AB1092, which would have eliminated interest on child support payments, Newsom wrote, would “have a General Fund impact of tens of millions of dollars annually, thus it should be considered as part of the budget process.”
That other bill would have eliminated interest charged by the state on child support arrears. California is one of the few states that charges double-figure interest – 10% - to NC parents who fall behind on their payments.
The overwhelming majority of parents behind on their child support payments are poor – extremely so. Over 60% of those parents report earnings of under $10,000 per year. Now, the junkiest of junk bonds don’t pay 10%, but somehow Gavin Newsom believes that parents who earn less than $10k per year can shell out interest that major corporations and municipalities wouldn’t dream of paying.
The reality of course is that poor fathers have no clout in Sacramento and there may still be votes to be had by appearing to “get tough” on parents who don’t pay. But the further reality is that, sky-high arrears brought about in part by sky-high interest rates discourage payment. The Office of Child Support Enforcement has said so more than once, but in California, something more pressing is at stake – money, not for kids, but for the legislature.
It’s something to remember the next time a politician hymns his/her concern for children.
Gavin Newsom had two opportunities to get more money to children whose parents are desperately poor. He refused.