Welfare department removes burdensome requirement from child care program

Published 11:38 am Tuesday, May 16, 2023

By Anna Wolfe from Mississippi Today


Mississippi no longer requires mothers to sue their child’s father for support in order to qualify for child care assistance, Mississippi Department of Human Services announced Monday.

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The requirement served as one of the biggest barriers to parents attempting to secure the child care voucher, which helps working parents place their kids at one of hundreds of participating providers.

“Accessibility of quality child care strengthens families, enriches learning, and undergirds our workforce. This policy change is a step towards allowing parents to fully participate in the workforce and is an investment in families, communities, and the economy,” MDHS Director Bob Anderson said in a statement.

A group of governor-appointed early childhood administrators recommended that Gov. Tate Reeves change the rule over a year ago. Mississippi was one of only 13 states that imposed the requirement, which forced custodial parents to participate in the state’s troubled Child Support Enforcement program.

Because the welfare department is an agency under the governor’s office, Reeves had the power to make the change without action by the Legislature.

“This policy deterred many single moms from applying for many valid reasons, ranging from informal payment agreements being jeopardized by court interference to avoiding abusive interactions,” said Carol Burnett, director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative. “The removal of this policy is a huge benefit for single moms, for their children, for providers and employers, and for all of us.”

Burnett’s organization had been advocating for this change for nearly 20 years.

“Child care is more than a critical support service for an individual family, it is a lifeline for the entire state’s economy,” said Matt Williams, Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative’s policy director. “Mississippi has one of the highest rates of single-parent households and the highest rate of women breadwinners in the nation. The importance of access to affordable child care cannot be overstated.”

The child support cooperation requirement is still in place for parents seeking food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. When child support is collected from a parent whose child is or was ever on TANF, the state takes the child support payments to pay itself back for any cash assistance it provided to the custodial parent.

In 2021, MDHS created a “pass through” so that custodial parents could keep the first $100 in child support paid each month before the state recouped the rest.