Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Theses & dissertations (Interdisciplinary)

First Advisor

Steven B. Garasky


When President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) into law on August 22, 1996, programs to strengthen child support enforcement and improve receipt efforts were established. However, the lives of welfare recipients who were receiving child support were forever changed. These single mothers would now have to attempt to find employment, no matter what their skill level, in order to keep their welfare benefits for the five-year time limit mandated by this legislation. Some of the new welfare-to-work rules helped raise welfare recipients out of poverty by helping them gain work experience and various job skills. However, most jobs found by welfare recipients provided low wages, limited or no benefits, and no flexibility when it came to childcare situations.

Before 1996, custodial parents were allowed to keep the first $50 per month in child support collected on their behalf without their welfare benefits being reduced. However, PRWORA now allowed states to increase or decrease the amount of this child support disregard. Many states, including Iowa, decided to keep the child support paid by non-custodial parents in order to offset welfare payments.

This thesis includes a brief history of welfare and child support policies and the recovery by states of their welfare costs, with an analysis of "pass-through" and "disregard" policies stemming from the passage of PRWORA. PRWORA eliminated mandatory pass-through. As of June 2009, approximately 25 states keep all of the child support paid by the non-custodial parent as reimbursement for the custodial parent receiving welfare benefits (Center for Law and Social Policy, 2009).

For this study, custodial and non-custodial parents, judges, and administrators from the Iowa Department of Human Services were interviewed. They were asked about their experiences with the formal child support and welfare systems, and how they navigated through the rules and regulations. Respondents also had a chance to give suggestions as to how the welfare and child support systems could be improved.

This thesis reports the effects that covert non-compliance and covert support have on custodial parents who receive child support, and on non-custodial parents who pay child support. It also reports that when child support is not made readily available to families who use welfare benefits, custodial parents may choose to engage in covert non-compliance, covert support, and/or informal support.

Most of the respondents had negative experiences with the formal welfare and child support systems. They understood the rules, regulations, and eligibility requirements of the programs they were involved in, but did not always agree with the stipulations. Some of the respondents also felt that welfare benefits and child support should be two separate financial supplements.

My recommendations include an educational campaign for Iowa Department of Human Services administrators, workers, and clients, a switch in federal marriage promotion funding to a positive parenting curriculum, job training, and skill building programs, and a policy brief of my research that can be used by various policymakers to help understand the plight of welfare families in central Iowa and how future policies concerning child support and welfare can be beneficial to both the state and low-income families.


Copyright Owner

Alissa Stoehr



Date Available


File Format


File Size

94 pages