Commentary by Biull Buchanan
The headline of the Associated Press article read, “Child support change could leave 275,000 men destitute.” In another newspaper, the same story’s headline shouted, “Rule change could leave 275,000 men penniless.” The accompanying article explained that beginning next year, the Treasury Department will pay and deposit all government benefits via electronic transfer instead of checks, a move that will save an estimated $1 billion. This new system would make it easier for state governments to freeze and seize 100 percent of that income for men who are past due on their child support payments. The story quotes an attorney named Johnson Tyler, who represents some of those who would be affected as saying, “It’s kind of Orwellian, what’s being set up here for a segment of the population. It’s going to be a nightmare in about a year unless something changes.” The article offers the touching example of a man whose bank account had been frozen repeatedly in the last few years because he had injured his back and had fallen behind on child care payments. The man even had his son come and speak to the court on his behalf. It painted a very sad picture of a poor man pitted against the big, bad government. The article made me a little sick. It was unnervingly sympathetic to the plight of the men, who are, in reality, dead-beat dads. If seizing assets of dead-beat dads is Orwellian, failure to seize them often leaves children in circumstances that are Dickensian. It is hard to get too worked up over the plight of men who have financially deserted their children. The failure of so many men to step up and care for the children they father is a major problem in this country. Not surprisingly, single income households are many times more likely to end up in poverty. The children in such households are much more likely to drop out of school, which, in turn, makes it likely that they, too, will live in poverty. When they grow up, the cycle often starts again. I agree that seizing all income is draconian. But people who do not support their children need extreme incentives to either pay up, or not father the children in the first place. Of course, if you look hard enough, you can find and trot out before the TV cameras some desperate guy who is now disabled or otherwise incapacitated who has fallen behind in paying for the child he spawned. Politicians on both sides of the aisle do it all the time. They elicit our sympathy to enlist support for their policies. But actions have consequences, and bad actions have bad consequences. We should not let our sympathy for isolated cases seduce us into making bad policies for the many. In the last few years, states have become increasingly aggressive in collecting past due welfare benefits. Much of that zeal has probably been born out of the necessity to balance the state budget rather than a benevolent desire to help the children affected. Whatever the reason, it is a good thing, and it needs to continue. If the consequence of not paying child support is going to be dire, let those who caused the problem pay the price, not those who are the helpless victims of it.