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The Role of Child Support in the Current Economic Safety Net for Low-Income Families with Children

Following the passage of welfare reform in the mid-1990s and the end of entitlement benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the U.S. economic safety net has become increasingly individualized. In fact, it is no longer clear whether low-income families tend to rely on particular types of public benefits, or whether there are characteristics that differentiate benefit “packaging.” Furthermore, the extent to which child support, as a source of family income, varies as a function of benefit packaging and earnings from employment is not known.

This project examines the combinations of child support and other sources of income (including earnings) comprising economic safety nets for low-income families. In addition to child support and earnings, the income sources we explore include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, child care subsidies, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicaid, using data from administrative records on a sample of families participating in the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) Program in Wisconsin. We find that child support makes up a relatively low proportion of the economic safety net for WIC recipients, but this proportion is fairly constant across income levels and is complementary to both work and welfare. The findings from this investigation may be useful to social service programs as they attempt to identify safety net resources for economically struggling families.


Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Economic Support, Employment, Family Income, Means-Tested Programs, WI Administrative Data Core


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