Establish an Education and Job Training Program for Absent Parents

Texas should provide parents who owe child support with job training and adult basic education.


Background
Texas will not be able to ensure financial support for many children of absent parents without providing these parents with education and/or job training so that they can get a job.

Most child support enforcement strategies target absent parents who are deliberately withholding support they could afford to pay. Even broad strategies like administrative process and self-starting enforcement assume that absent parents could pay child su pport if a support order were established.

Unfortunately, many absent parents cannot provide child support because they are unemployed. This is particularly true in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cases. According to a recent study, the most frequent reason for failure to pay child support is unemployment. 1

Even if absent parents are employed, they may not earn sufficient wages to provide meaningful support to their children. This is especially likely when the parent is young and undereducated.

When absent parents routinely fail to pay court-ordered child support, they are in contempt of court regardless of the reason for non-payment. Absent parents found in contempt of court often receive jail sentences because ther e is no alternative punishment for the judge to consider. In these cases, the taxpayers are forced to pay the cost of incarcerating the absent parent on top of the continued costs of supporting the family. Furthermore, while the absent parent is in jail, t hey continue to accrue a past-due support balance which they will have no ability to pay if they do not find employment upon leaving jail.

Several states are currently participating in a federal demonstration project that addresses unemployment among absent parents. The project, known as Parent s Fair Share, provides states with federal funds to provide job training and placement services to unemployed absent parents. Texas did not apply for a Parent s Fair Share grant in 1990, although it was encouraged to do so by members of the Texas congressional delegation. Existing state legislation would have enabled the state to implement the project.

Absent parents need to move quickly into the work force since they accumulate child support debt while in training. For those with a high school diploma or GED, on-the-job training offers the best solution.


Recommendation
The Legislature should appropriate to the new Texas Commission on Commerce and Labor agency (recommended in another part of this report) $1 million for adult basic education and $2 million for on-the-job training for absent parents who owe child support to families in the AFDC program. Additionally, the Legislature should appropriate $200,000 to the agency for administrative costs and $50,000 to th e Office of the Attorney General for administrative costs to fund the initiative for each year of the 1994-95 biennium.

The funds should be appropriated from the Child-Support Retained Collections Account contingent upon enactment of other child support recommendations in this report that generate sufficient revenue to fund the program. The program should make maximum use of any federal funds, including grants, that may be available for adult education and job training programs. The program should be phased in during the next biennium.

Judges should have the option of assigning delinquent, unemployed parents to these programs rather than assigning jail time.


Implications
Only a comprehensive approach to the problem of child support would ensure financial security for all Texas children. In addition to improving financial security for children, implementing an education and employment program for absent parents would bring the state into a cooperative relationship with parents who owe child support, instead of the current adversarial relationship.

When absent parents believe that the state respects them and expects them to succeed, they may be more able to contribute to their children s emotional support, as well as providing financial support. Improving the well-being of children of absent parents would benefit the children, their families and the state.

Providing employment and education for absent parents would allow the state to collect child support in more cases, reduce the number of families relying on AFDC and increase the state s recovery of AFDC expenditures. Providing a job training program as an alternative to jail would also save the state the costs of prosecuting absent parents for contempt of court and the costs of incarcerating parents found in contempt.

Beyond these short-term economic benefits, offering absent parents the chance to contribute meaningful child support would present their children with positive role models and would in the long run contribute to these children s self-este em, helping to break the cycle of poverty and dependence for many families.


Fiscal Implications
Development of an employment program for absent parents would require spending by one or more state agencies. The substance of the program would be contingent upon the availability of state funds and federal matching funds. Revenue to fund the program woul d be contingent upon enactment of other recommendations in this report that increase funds to the Child Support Retained Collections Account.

This recommen dation would provide $1 million for adult basic education and $2 million for on-the-job training for absent parents. It also provides $200,000 for administrative costs to the new Texas Commission on Commerce and Labor with an additional $50,000 to the Chil d Support Enforcement (CSE) program for their administrative costs. These costs cover two FTEs for administration of the funds and one FTE in the CSE program to monitor the effect of the program on child support collections and to function as a liaison bet ween the CSE program and the new agency.

The total number of participants in the program would depend on the federal funds the state could draw to the program. With no federal match, the program could serve 500 to 700 clients per year. However, the economic and work force development agency, with the assistance of the Office of State-Federal Relations, should seek federal funding sources for the program.

Although all the savings from an education and job training program cannot be estimated at this time, providing employment to absent parents would result in additional support collections, which would offset AFDC payments.


Cost to Child Total Child Support
Fiscal Support Retained Administrative Retained Collections Change
Year Collections Account Costs Account Costs in FTEs

1994 $3,000,000 $250,000 $3,250,000 +3
1995 3,000,000 250,000 3,250,000 +3
1996 3,000,000 250,000 3,250,000 +3
1997 3,000,000 250,000 3,250,000 +3
1998 3,000,000 250,000 3,250,000 +3



Endnotes
1 Sanford L. Braver, Pamela J. Fitzpatrick and R. Curtis Bay, Non-Custodial Parent s Report of Child-Support Payments, Family Relations (Vol. 40, 1991), pp. 180-185.