The "fleeing fathers" program, which helps the states collect $1 billion a year in child-support payments from fathers who have left the home, has become a pawn in a legislative struggle between Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.) and Reps. Al Ullman (D-Ore.) and James Corman (D-Calif.) over two major welfare bills.
Long is the author of the "fleeing fathers" program.
The House members are in effect holding funding authorizations for one part of the "fleeing fathers" program hostage to make sure Long brings up the two welfare measures in this Congress, and to prevent him from trying to bury them or scoot through only the provisions he likes.
"I feel strongly about this," said Long. "They're putting pressure on me to go along with some welfare bill they haven't even sent us."
As a result of the dispute, the "fleeing fathers," or "Nab-a-Dad" program as it is sometimes called, could be severely damaged by loss of federal funding for some of the state enforcement activities.
Fearing this, Long's home state and 10 other states have just filed suit in U.S. District Court here to force the federal government to turn over some of the endangered federal funding. The amount of enforcement funding for the first six months of 1979 involved in the dispute is only about$15 million, but to the states it's a lot. Most have already spent the money. Moreover, these small outlays provide a huge return in support payments collected for abandoned or divorced mothers.
The other bills involved in the dispute are two of the biggest welfare measures that this Congress will consider. One is President Carter's $5.5 billion-a-year welfare revision bill, which Corman's House welfare subcommittee has just approved and which goes before the full Ways and Means Committee in a few days.
The other is the child-welfare bill, boosting the broad program of social services grants to the states from $2.9 billion to $3.1 billion, permitting U.S. welfare funds to be used to help support adopted children, and giving local governments automatic entitlement to $266 million a year in U.S. grants for child welfare services instead of the current funding level of $56.5 million. This bill, approved by Ways and Means, probably will go to the house floor this week.
Although Long, Corman and Ullman all like the "fleeing father" program, Long is its most ardent fan. He created it by legislation several years ago, despite scornful predqctions by welfare experts that it would be impossible to collect much from absent fathers who were avoiding child support. Today, it is collecting about $1 billion - almost half from fathers of families on welfare, the rest from non-welfare fathers who simply have ducked paying child support. Overall federal-state administrative costs are around $300 million, mainly for the welfare-families part.
Federal funding of state administration costs for the part of the program involving welfare families is permanent. But the 75 percent federal pickup of state costs in the portion of the program involving non-welfare families has been on a year-to-year basis, and because of legislative mix-ups last year expired Oct. 1, 1978.
Long wants the reimbursement extended permanently, retroactive to last Oct. 1 and has tacked such a provision onto a minor bill giving state legislators a tax break on living expenses while state legislatures are in session.
Corman and Ullman, however, have refused to go along with this.They know, as Long has repeatedly said, the most recently yesterday, that Long dislikes the president's $5.5 billion welfare revision bill and he has reservations about some of the child-welfare provisions. He believes the welfare bill provisions would encourage people to go on welfare instead of seeking to get off.
Corman and Ullman fear that Long will block or delay these measures, particularly the $5.5 billion welfare bill. So they have in effect offered him a deal: They have offered to put an authorization for "fleeing fathers" reimbursements for fiscal 1979 in the state legislator bill, if he will in effect agree to the big welfare bill.
As an inducement to take up the $5.5 billion bill, a permanent extension of the reimbursements beyond fiscal 1979 has been written into the welfare measure.
House sources say this is the way Corman and Ullman are playing hardball against a master of the game who has done the same kind of thing to them repeatedly in past years.
The states, meanwhile, have been continuing their outlays on Nab-a-Dad in expectation of full federal reimbursement of their administrative costs, but in order to make sure they get the money they went to court two weeks ago. #