Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves finally ended a rule requiring mothers to cooperate with child support enforcement to be eligible for state childcare assistance.
Mississippi’s Department of Human Services operates a Child Care Payment Program that offers financial help for childcare for qualifying low-income parents. For roughly the last two decades, however, state governors have appointed Mississippi Department of Human Services officials who demand mothers call child support services on the child’s other biological parent to qualify for help.
Jamese Wiley, a 28-year-old cashier in Madison, said this put enormous strain on parents who would prefer co-parents voluntary cooperate with them to facilitate employment or college enrollment.
“Many (fathers) see calling child support as a betrayal. Sometimes they understand, but it puts a strain on things,” Wiley said.
Daytime childcare is often not enough for a young mother, especially if she works an evening or night job or is taking night classes and working toward a career. Evenings are generally the hours when a single parent desperately needs childcare. Retaliatory bitterness for involving child support services can seriously hinder that help, however. Plus, Wiley said third party-induced child support is not always reliable.
“When they’re taking money out of his check, we’re not often getting it on time, so it leaves you asking them for money anyway, and even less likely to get it. There’s such a myriad of dynamics,” Wiley said.
Involving third-party child support can also slow the application process, sometimes for months, while a mother scrambles to gather relevant information.
“There’s a significant waiting period,” said Wiley. “We have about 60 days to process everything and that’s a challenge because what am I supposed to do during that time it takes to process things? Childcare cost me $550 a month, while I was only making $1,600 a month, maybe. For a very long time I couldn’t work. I was off a whole year because I was not able to get the information they were asking for. Also, you need the child support people to get in touch with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) people and the SNAP people to get in touch with the childcare payment program. You’ll hear people say ‘Well, we don’t see it in the system, so you’ll have to go to the other office.’ And the other office will say ‘Well, we put it in. We don’t know why they don’t see it.’”
Chad Allgood, director of MDHS’ Division of Early Childhood Care and Development, said at a May 15 press conference that MDHS finally got onboard with the decision after examining all the information.
“This is something that we’ve been working on for several months now,” Allgood said. “This was a change unanimously supported by the state Early Childhood Advisory Council. We took a vote in March of last year.”
Allgood pointed out that the absence of childcare remains “a significant barrier” for parents entering the workforce and called the new policy a step toward allowing them to fully participate. He added parents can’t “maintain consistent employment without accessibility to stable, quality childcare.”
This information is not new, however, and it wasn’t new for roughly the last two decades that Republican administrations refused to decouple assisted childcare from child support requirements. Mississippi has one of the highest rates of single parent households in the nation, said MLICCI Research Director Matt Williams, as well as the highest rate of women breadwinners.
Williams added both parents and childcare providers have long been sharing their negative experiences with coupling childcare aid with a child-support requirement. He said most describe the prerequisite as “intrusive, dangerous, demoralizing, and deterring policy that keeps the families who need childcare most—those headed by a single mom—from getting the childcare assistance they need to sustain their family’s wellbeing.”
The only thing that may have changed in the governor’s office is the fact that this is an election year, and Gov. Tate Reeves is facing a strong Democratic candidate in Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, of Nettleton. Reeves likely knew the decoupling would prove popular among mothers, considering his administration chose the day after Mother’s Day to make the announcement. Despite knowing its popularity, Reeves still waited three years before instituting the rule change, even though it requires no legislative input or maneuvering outside his office.
Reeve’s successful crusade to kill Roe v. Wade in Mississippi and force women to carry unwanted pregnancies is another factor likely contributing to the uncharacteristic generosity. Reeves describes his forced birth policies as a “pro-life agenda,” and has tried to buttress that agenda with legislation encouraging foster parents and adoption services. Ending a policy that mothers clearly hate would be in accord with that effort.