WASHINGTON — A semi-annual U.S. Census Bureau report on child support payments for the year 2017 fails to take into account the circumstances of parents with different levels of income, a practitioner said this week. 

“We want to help people to have an appreciation for the difference between somebody who was deadbeat, meaning they had funds, they have the obligation to pay financially for their children, they had the means to do it. And for whatever reason they choose not to do and not to pay,” said Joe Jones of the Center for Urban Families, “versus another group of dads who are low income, who are simply dead broke, and they have an obligation to pay, they want to pay, they don’t have the means to do so.”

While there is mention of higher income individuals in the report, there is no explicit discussion of how child support orders can impact people with lower income — particularly when the orders exceed their means. 

This data —  which is often used by other federal agencies and officials to determine funding and resource allocation — serves as a good starting point for learning about the receipt of child support payments but needs additional work to have true impact, according to Jones, the founder and CEO of the Maryland-based community center. 

For starters, the report could have practical influence if used by state officials, for example the National Conference of State Legislatures, to reform some child support policies. 

“The one thing you don’t want to do is to have a child support order so outlandish that it makes a person destitute because it strips that person of all their income,” Jones said. “We were able to get signed into law, the self sufficiency reserve, which basically says you can only create a child support order based on documented income. So that practice is no longer allowable, because it’s a law.”

“But you think about the amount of debt that has accrued over time, and whether or not it’s in a community’s best interest, to allow a population of people to have that level of debt that can never be collected,” he said.