Hyde-Woolsey Child Support Bill – Oral Testimony

Oral Testimony:            COMMENTS on HR 1488,

The AHyde-Woolsey Child Support Bill,@

presented to the

Human Resources Subcommittee of the

House Ways and Means Committee


March 16, 2000


R. Mark Rogers[1]


            Thank you, Madam Chair.  As a formality, the following are my personal views and do not in any way reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta nor the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. 


            I’m here as a professional economist—one who was a member of the 1998 Georgia Commission on Child Support and is familiar with the economics and the regulations regarding child support.  I am a split custody parent and am familiar with the needs of both custodial and non-custodial parents.


            The key concerns I have about HR 1488 are: the bill’s apparent lack of constitutionality, the need for regulatory compliance by states and the IRS, the IRS’ loss of confidentiality, the unintended political developments, and the loss of a broad appreciation non-custodial parent needs for their children. 


            First, does the Federal government have authority to broadly transfer child support enforcement from the states to a Federal agency?  Under the Tenth Amendment, governance of domestic relations generally is reserved to the states.  Specifically, the issuance or modification of marriage, divorce, award of child support, or of alimony are reserved solely for the states as spelled out in U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as Ankenbrandt v. Richards.[2]


            On another constitutional issue, states have different child support guidelines and each state enforces its own guidelines.  If the IRS is given national child support enforcement responsibility, will the IRS be open to complaints of violations of equal protection?  In contrast, the IRS does not impose different income tax rates on different states.


            Next, under Federal/state financial agreements, states are to have met Federal regulations regarding the nature of the guidelines and protections for obligors but no state has completely done so.   Not only should these issues be resolved before transferring authority to the IRS, but resolving these regulatory issues is likely the best solution for child support compliance problems.   As a Federal agency, the IRS would not be able to dodge lack of compliance with Federal regulations as states have.


            The IRS would face legal challenges in the following areas: (1) child support guidelines should be rational and based on economic data for child costs but are not; (2) guidelines are supposed to take into account basic living needs of an obligor but often do not and push obligors below the poverty level; (3) employers are forbidden from withholding child support that exceeds limits set by the Consumer Credit Protection Act but guidelines do exceed those ceilings in some states; (4) child support obligors are not given the same subsistence protection that other debtors are given under the CCPA, likely violating equal protection; (5) guidelines that the IRS would be enforcing are supposed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act but generally do not.   As a nationwide enforcer that is directly required to comply with Federal regulations, the IRS would face many legal challenges attempting to enforce non-compliant state laws.


            Next, as holder of record for child support cases, the IRS would lose confidentiality of taxpayer files.   As a matter of due process, parties in child support cases enforced by the IRS would be entitled to access to IRS records through standard requests for disclosure for court.


            Finally, there is the broad issue of the IRS not addressing both parents’ needs.  Placing child support enforcement under the jurisdiction of the IRS would be a move that runs counter to the recent and long overdue trend to look at child support enforcement as just one facet of children’s needs.   Focusing on collections alone is not in the best interests of children.  After two decades of educating HHS, that department in the last few years has acknowledged that the whole picture needs to be addressed—including the need for children to be nurtured by non-custodial parents.  Visitation access programs, parenting skills classes, job training, and mediation programs have been initiated by HHS and these would be lost by focusing only on collections through the IRS.  Non-custodial parents will be seen as only a checking account.


            Instead, the IRS would be viewed by non-custodial parents as siding with custodial parents and not neutral.  The IRS would see the political needs of custodial parents as being in the IRS’s interests in terms of maintaining or expanding its role.  I do not believe this Congress should set in motion these political developments with the IRS—that of the IRS attaching itself to the politics of custodial mothers.  This politicizing of the IRS would reduce the credibility of the IRS in its more traditional role of collecting general revenues for the Federal government.


            However, should the IRS be granted this authority, I believe it is important that child support obligors be given a bill of rights analogous to a tax payer bill of rights.  I’ve brought a draft version for your consideration. 


            Thank you for your attentiveness.

[1] The speaker presents this testimony as an expert as a member of the 1998 Georgia Commission on Child Support (not necessarily representing other commissioners’ views) and as an economist published on child costs and other areas of economics.  Presenter’s email: rmrogers@mindspring.com.

[2] Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 112 S.Ct. 2206 (1992).


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