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Federal Incentives



"...The Governor of the most populous state in the Union
vetoed an effort to reduce paternity fraud because a reduction in
paternity fraud might cost the government money."

money trailFederal law does not directly require paternity establishment.  Instead, the federal government uses the "power of the purse" to impose conditions upon state eligibility for receipt of federal funds.

Since the 1980's, Congress has operated on the belief that federal welfare expenditures can be offset by recoupment of child support payments from noncustodial parents.

Accordingly, federal law requires that a recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) must assign to the government the right to receive child support payments.  To maximize child support collections, the federal government requires each state to have paternity establishment procedures in place.

The federal government also provides penalties and incentives to the states related to their performance in paternity establishment.  Federal law establishes a target of paternity establishment in ninety percent of cases.  Failure to meet the target subjects the state to an escalating series of program improvement requirements and penalties.

In addition, Congress has provided that states with the highest paternity establishments rates and greatest year-to-year increases in paternity establishment rates will be eligible for bonus or incentive payments from the federal government.  

california state capitolWith billions of dollars of federal TANF funds and incentive payments at stake each year, the states have tremendous incentives and compulsion to pursue high rates of paternity establishments.

While nothing in federal law requires or authorizes establishing paternity against the wrong man, there is nothing in federal law that prohibits or penalizes tagging the wrong man.

Eligibility for receipt of federal funds under TANF and under the incentive formula depends only upon tagging the largest possible number of men, and there is no review or requirement that it be the right men.

With the enormous sums of federal funds that are at stake, the result is not difficult to predict. States are hugely incentivized to establish paternities, and one man will serve just as well as any other.  

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