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Food stamp programs in Massachusetts and around the country help almost 40 million people to meet their nutritional needs, and many of the most vulnerable recipients are children. A debate is currently underway about rules that would deny access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to custodial and noncustodial parents who do not cooperate with agencies that administer and enforce child support. The issue is an important one because more than a third of the American children who live with only one parent live in conditions of poverty.

The federal Food and Nutrition Act and SNAP regulations allow states to deny food stamps to parents who refuse to work with child support agreements, but only a handful of states have chosen to enforce these provisions. In a May 1 memorandum, the U.S. Department of Agriculture urged SNAP program administrators across the country to revisit this issue and enforce the child support regulations.

Supporters of this position say that enforcement could help poor children and save taxpayers money, and they point out that most poor parents do not have a child support agreement in place. States have been reluctant to enforce these rules because doing so would deny nutritional assistance to struggling parents and could lead to children going hungry. The debate is fueled by a child support deficit that has grown in recent years and now stands at $13.5 billion. This is the difference between the child support that should be paid and the child support that is actually received.

Courts determine child support by assessing the needs of the child. When these needs change, experienced family law attorneys may petition the court to modify child support orders. Attorneys may also take action on behalf of custodial parents to enforce child support orders when noncustodial parents refuse to meet their responsibilities.