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Tommy Thompson on Families & Children

Former Secretary of H.H.S.; former Republican Governor (WI)


Children First: father pay child support or go to jail

Children First was a pilot project we started in two counties in 1990. The problem with child support collection efforts was that there was little the courts could do if the noncustodial parent--usually the father--claimed he had no job and no money. Children First changed that. Parents who weren't paying their child support were brought before the court and given two choices: pay the child support or go to jail. Almost always, the parent picked option number one, but then said, "Hey, I can't pay because I don't have a job." No problem. Children Fist helps the parent find work, or if unsuccessful, enrolls him in an unpaid community service job for sixteen weeks to gain the work experience to get a job.
Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p. 54-55 , Sep 1, 1996

Demand child support or fathers face jail

[As governor of Wisconsin], I started a program called Children First. I have no time for people who bring children into this world and do not take care of them by walking away from their responsibilities. In Children First, individuals who do not pay their child support are brought in front of a judge and given two choices: Either go to jail or go to work and start paying your child support.

The guy usually raises his hand and says, “I will take choice number two, but I can’t find a job.” The judge says, “Okay, we will give you 16 weeks of nonpay status to clean brush out of ditches or sweep the street or be a crossing guard.” You know what happens? Like manna from heaven, they get a job and they start paying.

Source: United We Stand America Conference, p.207 , Aug 12, 1995

Maintain federal welfare funding for child support.

Thompson wrote a letter to House leaders from 2 Governors:

On behalf of the nation’s Governors, we are writing to express our opposition to cuts in the child support program as included in the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999. Notwithstanding the merit of the Independent Living program, we cannot support paying for the expansion of one human services program at the expense of the child support system.

However, we are greatly concerned that H.R. 1802 will have a detrimental impact on the stability of states’ child support financing structures. Child support provides a crucial income support for many families, a large number of whom are low-income and transitioning off of welfare. With the dramatic drop in welfare caseloads, a greater share of families now served by the child support system are those not connected to the welfare system. While the drop in caseloads translates to success in welfare, it creates financial instability for many states’ child support financing structures.

H.R. 1802 will repeal the “hold harmless” provision that was enacted as part of the 1996 welfare reform law to ensure that states did not experience a significant loss in child support funds as a result of a change in child support distribution rules. Governors view the proposed repeal of the “hold harmless” provision as another example of the gradual unraveling of the historic 1996 welfare reform agreement reached among Governors, Congress, and the administration. The repeal of the “hold harmless” provision in H.R. 1802 will only add to the instability of state child support enforcement systems.

The repeal of the “hold harmless” provision will cut federal funding to states’ child support programs by at least $320 million over five years and will result in some states facing great difficulties in achieving the ultimate goal of the child support system - to get more money in the hands of families.

Source: National Governor's Association letter to Congress 99-NGA28 on Jun 24, 1999

Keep TANF program focused on family welfare, not other tasks.

Thompson adopted a letter to House leaders from 4 Governors:

The nation’s Governors have serious concerns with recent proposals to expand the use of TANF funds beyond the original intent of the statute. The TANF block grant was at the heart of the 1996 welfare reform agreement and we strongly oppose attempts to use welfare-related funds to pay for other federal programs.

    Specifically, the House budget resolution anticipates that states will be given additional flexibility to use unspent TANF funds for educational purposes, such as school construction and hiring teachers. Notwithstanding the merit of these initiatives, designating welfare funds for such programs is clearly beyond the original purposes of TANF. We caution you that an expansion of flexibility outside the scope of TANF sets a dangerous precedent of violating the original purposes established as part of welfare reform agreement, [which states] that the purpose of TANF is to:
  1. provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;
  2. end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
  3. prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and
  4. encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
We have experienced tremendous success in transforming the welfare system from one of dependency to one of self-sufficiency. However, there is more work to be done. Opening up the TANF block grant to fund other priorities sets a dangerous precedent and is simply unacceptable. The nation’s Governors urge you to protect the integrity of the TANF block grant as it was established in 1996.
Source: National Governor's Association letter to Congress 99-NGA32 on Mar 24, 1999

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Page last updated: Jul 12, 2013