Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, speaks about a policy change by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, that removed a child support requirement for the Child Care Payment Program, at a news conference Monday, May 15, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi no longer requires mothers to sue their child’s father for support in order to qualify for child care assistance, Mississippi Department of Human Services announced Monday.

The requirement served as one of the biggest barriers to parents attempting to secure the child care voucher, which helps working parents place their kids at one of hundreds of participating providers.

“Accessibility of quality child care strengthens families, enriches learning, and undergirds our workforce. This policy change is a step towards allowing parents to fully participate in the workforce and is an investment in families, communities, and the economy,” MDHS Director Bob Anderson said in a statement.

A group of governor-appointed early childhood administrators recommended that Gov. Tate Reeves change the rule over a year ago. Mississippi was one of only 13 states that imposed the requirement, which forced custodial parents to participate in the state’s troubled Child Support Enforcement program.

Because the welfare department is an agency under the governor’s office, Reeves had the power to make the change without action by the Legislature.

“This policy deterred many single moms from applying for many valid reasons, ranging from informal payment agreements being jeopardized by court interference to avoiding abusive interactions,” said Carol Burnett, director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative. “The removal of this policy is a huge benefit for single moms, for their children, for providers and employers, and for all of us.”

Burnett’s organization had been advocating for this change for nearly 20 years.

“Child care is more than a critical support service for an individual family, it is a lifeline for the entire state’s economy,” said Matt Williams, Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative’s policy director. “Mississippi has one of the highest rates of single parent households and the highest rate of women breadwinners in the nation. The importance of access to affordable child care cannot be overstated.”

The child support cooperation requirement is still in place for parents seeking food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. When child support is collected from a parent whose child is or was ever on TANF, the state takes the child support payments to pay itself back for any cash assistance it provided to the custodial parent.

In 2021, MDHS created a “pass through” so that custodial parents could keep the first $100 in child support paid each month before the state recouped the rest.

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Anna Wolfe, a native of Tacoma, Wa., is an investigative reporter writing about poverty and economic justice. Before joining the staff at Mississippi Today in September of 2018, Anna worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide daily newspaper. She also worked as an investigative reporter for the Center for Public Integrity and Jackson Free Press, the capital city’s alternative newsweekly. Anna has received national recognition for her work, including the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the 2021 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the 2021 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the 2020 Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award and the February 2020 Sidney Award for reporting on Mississippi’s debtors prisons. She received the National Press Foundation’s 2020 Poverty and Inequality Award. She also received first place in the regional Green Eyeshade Awards in 2021 for Public Service in Online Journalism and 2020 for Business Reporting, and the local Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2019 and 2018 for reporting on unfair medical billing practices and hunger in the Mississippi Delta.