The Obama administration has issued a new federal regulation that will allow incarcerated parents to lower their child-support payments while they are in prison, the Marshall Project reports. The rule, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requires states to notify parents incarcerated for more than six months of their right to ask child support agencies for a temporary reduction in payments. Many states have considered incarceration a form of “voluntary” impoverishment and not a valid excuse for missing child-support payments. State prison job pay a median wage of about 20 cents an hour, meaning that most incarcerated parents cannot feasibly pay the full amount of their child-support obligation, and end up tens of thousands of dollars in debt by the time they get out.
The new rule is intended to keep these mostly-poor fathers out of severe debt so they are less tempted back into crime after they are released. Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), introduced legislation in 2015 to block Obama’s new regulation, arguing that it would lead to more single mothers on welfare, which would be a greater burden on taxpayers. The Trump administration could resume efforts to undo the regulation.