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USDA encourages child support requirements for SNAP

The federal Department of Agriculture is urging states like Connecticut to implement child support cooperation agreements for people receiving food assistance. The USDA guidance was issued to state agencies overseeing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, often referred to by its prior name, "food stamps." If implemented, this would mean that people receiving SNAP benefits would be required to cooperate with child support enforcement, including entering official child support orders and agreements where none currently exist.

SNAP is one of the most widely used government assistance programs across the country with around 40 million Americans receiving benefits. Many families receiving SNAP are single-parent households where children live with only one of their parents. Around 37% of kids with single parents live in poverty, and poor children's parents are far less likely to have official child support orders in place. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, from lower access to and understanding of the legal system to concerns about inability to pay. According to 2015 statistics, less than half of all custodial parents in poverty had a child support agreement in place.

Supporters of the mandate argue that many of these children live in deeper poverty because their other parent does not pay child support or often misses payments. Estimates indicate that there is a $13.5 billion gap between the amount of child support paid and the amount that custodial parents should be receiving. However, critics caution that some custodial parents have good reason to avoid a legal agreement, especially if they are escaping an abusive home.

For people at all income levels, child support can be crucial in maintaining a child's lifestyle and covering his or her expenses. A family law attorney may work with a single parent to obtain a child support order or enforce an existing one.

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