Policies that “mandate” a particular action are on my mind today, perhaps because I’ve crawled out of my conference-induced fog and I’m turning my attention back to the presidential campaign a bit. John Edwards (just love him) and Hilary Clinton both recommend “mandating” health insurance coverage for every American citizen – Barack Obama “mandates” health insurance for every child but not ever citizen.
What do mandates get us? What is the underbelly of mandates that might punish the very people who always need a little extra financial wiggle room? Let’s think about “child support.”
Picture this: A mom and dad argue a lot and finally one of them hits their breaking point. The mom decides to move out of the house with the child, and though the dad wants desperately to have custody of the child, the mother is awarded custody. Now the father and child are separated, but allowed “visitation” as long as child support is paid.
I didn’t tell you that both parents were working for minimum wage – but that’s a very important part of the story.
So now you have two separate single-headed households trying to make ends meet on minimum wage earnings (about $240.00/week take home). Out of approximately $1,000/month, each has to pay rent, buy food, provide clothes and food for the child when the child is with them, pay for gas, gas and electric in the homes, etc.
The court orders the dad to pay $480.00 a month in child support. That’s approximately 1/2 his income and moves the dad from poverty level living to well below poverty level living. He can’t pay his bills any more when he takes his weekly child support payment to the courthouse.
He falls behind in child support.
Goes to court.
His license is suspended (YES – this is one of the punishments for not paying your child support).
Visitation is suspended (YES – so now he loses his son too).
He tries to find alternative ways to get to work, but arrangements fall through.
He loses his job.
Gets further and further behind in child support (only 3 months can quickly be more than 1300.00 – a very heavy debt for this father).
He experiences depression.
Goes back to court because he is now 6 months behind in child support.
Goes to jail (YES – this is another punishment for not paying child support).
Dad is wrecked. Child is wrecked. And mother still doesn’t have any additional financial support that she so desperately needs for her son.
He didn’t want her to leave in the first place and cried on the phone almost daily trying to get the family back together, but she insisted it would never work. He wanted custody, but the courts would not seriously consider that.
Who does this “mandatory child support” policy help? Hurt? Destroy? Advantage?
Who are the dads (I say dads here because we rarely hear of “Deadbeat Mothers” but instead “Deadbeat Dads” – the derogatory way of referring to dads who don’t pay child support) who didn’t want to lose their families in the first place, tried to get custody of the child, then experience a rapid spiraling out of control of their life because they fall behind in child support payments?
Who are the dads who never feel the financial pinch of the hundreds or thousands paid for child support each month?
These “mandates” always seem to hurt the ones who have persistently been hurt by the economic structures in our society. In many working-poor families everyone loses when child support payments are mandated and policed by the state.
What will happen if health insurance is mandated? The same folks will be punished for their inability to pay the price of coverage and still maintain a roof over their heads.