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Full child support pass-through and disregard

Health Factors: Income
Decision Makers: State Government Federal Government
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 1-9% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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Families eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are required to assign their rights to child support to the state in order to receive TANF benefits. States may retain child support payments collected on behalf of TANF families to offset the cost of welfare payments or may pass some or all collected funds to the custodial parent. States may also disregard some or all of a pass-through amount when determining TANF participants’ benefits so that portion of the child support is not considered in benefit calculations. Full pass-through policies allow the custodial parent (usually the mother) to receive all child support paid; no portion is retained by the state.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased child support receipt
Increased paternity establishment
Reduced child maltreatment

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that full pass-through and disregard of child support payments increases custodial parents’ receipt of payment as well as the amount they receive. Paternity is also established more quickly when such policies are in place than when child support payments are retained to offset welfare payments (Urban-Wheaton 2008, Cancian 2008, UW IRP-Cancian 2007, Pirog 2006, Cassetty 2005).

Overall, more generous pass-through and disregard policies are associated with higher levels of child support receipt (Cancian 2008, UW IRP-Cancian 2007, Pirog 2006, UW IRP-Cancian 2006, Cassetty 2005) and paternity establishment (Cancian 2008, UW IRP-Cancian 2007, UW IRP-Cancian 2006, Cassetty 2005). Full pass-through and disregard, where the custodial parent receives all child support paid on their behalf and that amount is not considered in benefit calculations, increases the likelihood of payment and amount received, and leads to paternity establishment more quickly than partial pass-through and disregard (Cancian 2008, UW IRP-Cancian 2007). Full pass-through may also reduce the risk of child maltreatment (Cancian 2013) and reduce cohabitation rates between mothers and men who are not the fathers of their children (Cancian 2014).

Partial pass-through policies, including the $50 pass-through policy in many states before 1996 and the current $150 policy in Washington DC, have been shown to increase rates and amount of child support receipt (Urban-Lippold 2010, Urban-Sorensen 1999). When pass-through and disregard amounts are reduced, however, there may be an increase in informal support from the non-custodial parent (Gunter 2013).

Generous pass-through and disregard policies generally decrease government outlays on some safety net services (e.g., child care and food stamps) but can increase other government costs (Pirog 2006). Little additional cost to government was noted in an assessment of Wisconsin’s full pass-through and disregard (Cancian 2008, UW IRP-Cancian 2007). Modeling suggests that costs are likely to be higher for state governments than federal governments (Urban-Wheaton 2008).

A recent report projects that establishing full pass-through of all child support collected on behalf of TANF families, disregarding it in calculating TANF benefits, and disregarding up to $100 of it in calculating SNAP benefits would reduce the number of children in poverty by approximately 89,000 children. These changes would cost approximately $1.1 billion (CDF 2015).


United States

Pass-through and disregard dollar amounts vary by state. As of July 2013, many states have no pass-through or disregard, and 22 states have some form of pass-through and disregard in place. States are required to pay the federal government a portion of child support collected on behalf of TANF recipients; amounts paid are equal to the Medicaid match rate. If all child support is passed through to the custodial parent, states must still pay the federal government from other funds (OPRE-Huber 2014). 


In Wisconsin, 75% of child support is passed through and disregarded for purposes of eligibility and benefits (OPRE-Huber 2014).

Citations - Evidence

Cancian 2008* - Cancian M, Meyer DR, Caspar E. Welfare and child support: Complements, not substitutes. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2008;27(2):354-75. Accessed on December 7, 2015
Cancian 2013* - Cancian M, Yang MY, Slack KS. The effect of additional child support income on the risk of child maltreatment. Social Service Review. 2013;87(3):417-437. Accessed on February 16, 2016
Cancian 2014 - Cancian M, Meyer DR. Testing the economic independence hypothesis: The effect of an exogenous increase in child support on subsequent marriage and cohabitation. Demography. 2014;51(3):857-880. Accessed on February 15, 2016
Cassetty 2005* - Cassetty JH, Hutson R. Effectiveness of federal incentives in shaping child support enforcement outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review. 2005;27(3):271-89. Accessed on December 7, 2015
CDF 2015 - Ending child poverty now. Washington, DC: Children's Defense Fund (CDF); 2015. Accessed on February 4, 2016
Gunter 2013* - Gunter SP. Effects of child support pass-through and disregard policies on in-kind child support. Review of Economics of the Household. 2013;11(2):193-209. Accessed on February 15, 2016
Pirog 2006* - Pirog MA, Ziol-Guest KM. Child support enforcement: Programs and policies, impacts and questions. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2006;25(4):943-90. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Urban-Lippold 2010 - Lippold K, Nichols A, Sorensen E. Evaluation of the $150 child support pass-through and disregard policy in the District of Columbia. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2010. Accessed on February 15, 2016
Urban-Sorensen 1999 - Sorensen E, Halpern A. Child support enforcement: How well is it doing? Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 1999. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Urban-Wheaton 2008 - Wheaton L, Sorensen E. The potential impact of increasing child support payments to TANF families. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2008. Accessed on November 9, 2015
UW IRP-Cancian 2006 - Cancian M, Meyer DR, Roff J. The effects of child support pass-through and disregard policies. Madison: Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), University of Wisconsin-Madison; 2005. Accessed on November 10, 2015
UW IRP-Cancian 2007 - Cancian M, Meyer DR. The child support demonstration evaluation research summary. Madison: Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), University of Wisconsin-Madison; 2007. Accessed on November 20, 2015

Citations - Implementation

OPRE-Huber 2014 - Huber, Erika, David Kassabian, and Elissa Cohen. Welfare rules databook: State TANF policies as of July 2013. OPRE Report 2014-52. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). 2014. Accessed on March 2, 2017

Page Last Updated

April 9, 2015

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