In my January 13, 2010, City Paper column, I wrote about ways in which our South Carolina legislators like to look busy in order to make themselves, well, look busy. But at the end of the session rarely is anything actually accomplished. Never is this more true than in matters of of child welfare.
Children in South Carolina live in more danger, more poverty, more ignorance than children in almost any other state. One partial solution to this perennial crisis would be to enforce court-ordered child support payments, but our governor and our General Assembly steadfastly refuse to do it.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, aka the Welfare Reform Bill, rewrote the way government assistance is administered by the states.
Among other things, it required states to install a centralized computer system to track and collect child support. Another requirement made states responsible for creating a centralized "New Hire Directory," allowing each state to compare information contained in that directory with the information contained in the central child support tracking system. This would allow the state to garnish wages when necessary.
To help states comply with these new federal mandates, Congress generously agreed to pay for the new computer systems. That was the carrot. To make sure the states got the message and got to work fulfilling these mandates, Congress included penalties against states that failed to comply. Call that the stick.
At last count, the State of South Carolina has received approximately $100 million in federal grants to implement its child support tracking and collection system and has been fined approximately $80 million for its failure to install that system. However, this state has neither been fined for its failure to establish a New Hire Directory nor been fined for its failure to make New Hire reporting mandatory. Even as this travesty continues, state Attorney General Henry McMaster campaigns for governor on a promise to go after "deadbeat dads." The Wall Street Journal has called McMaster's actions "shady." I could think of a stronger word! Today we are the only state which has failed to implement the mandated computer system. And the state's penalty payments increase by approximately $100 million a year.
As it has been throughout so much of its history, South Carolina is a renegade state, out of compliance, in violation of federal law and national norms. Until our governor and legislature decide that they are ready to comply with federal law in the matter implementing these child support programs, deadbeats will continue to break the law, children will continue to go hungry, federal penalties will continue to mount against our already overburdened state treasury, an atmosphere of arrogant lawlessness will continue to reign in Columbia, and South Carolina will continue to look like the trailer park of America. This went on for eight long years under the Bush Administration. Let's hope the Obama Administration will take its responsibility seriously. It's time to protect our children.
To read more about this and other official child neglect issues in
our state government, go to http://parentsrights.blogspot.com/2009_12_01_archive.html