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SNAP Insights: Child Support Cooperation Requirement Research Findings and Policy Options

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recently studied the impact of child support cooperation requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).


When administering SNAP, states have the option to require SNAP families to cooperate with their state's child support program to receive benefits. There are currently nine states that use this option: Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Kentucky. FNS is releasing a report based on data from eight states to improve understanding of the impact of cooperation requirements on low-income families and the programs that serve them.

Key Findings

  • The requirement did not result in increased child support payments to SNAP households, on average.
  • SNAP households generally comply with the requirement even though they find it confusing.
  • Sanctioned parents face financial strain and challenges getting back into compliance.
  • States are not adequately implementing exemptions for domestic violence situations.
  • Automated, integrated data systems are key to implementing the requirement but can require substantial upfront costs.
  • Ongoing implementation adds complexity and costs for child support staff.
  • While the child support requirement may lower SNAP benefit costs, increased child support enforcement costs may offset savings to the government.

Unintended Consequences - Tisha's Story

SNAP participants interviewed for this study expressed a range of views about the cooperation requirement informed by their own knowledge and lived experiences. This is one participant’s experience:

Tisha, a single parent with a disability, raises her biological daughter and two foster children. Because she lives in a state that requires SNAP participants to cooperate with child support enforcement, she had to open a child support case against her daughter’s non-custodial parent to qualify for SNAP. Tisha described feeling overwhelmed by all the information that was required, noting that the noncustodial parent had to get a DNA test and agree to share his Social Security number, which he did not want to do. Although the formal child support case was opened, Tisha believes she now receives less money from him to support her daughter as she rarely receives payments from the child support order and the process created significant animosity. This strain deterred the non-custodial parent from providing informal support. She explained that opening the child support case negatively impacted the relationship between Tisha and the noncustodial parent, as well as between the noncustodial parent and their daughter, who is no longer allowed to visit his house and see her half-siblings.

Tisha believes the cooperation requirement has caused more harm than good in her situation. She hasn’t received the financial support intended and has faced increased conflict and reduced informal assistance.


This study highlights the challenges and complexities of implementing a child support cooperation requirement in SNAP. The requirement may not lower costs for the federal government, and it doesn't seem to benefit SNAP households financially. Moreover, it can strain relationships and create hardships for families, especially those facing domestic violence.

Policy Options Memo to State Agencies

FNS recently issued a memo echoing the sentiment from these research findings and reminding state agencies about the policy options related to the child support cooperation requirement in SNAP. This memo emphasizes the importance of evaluating the impacts of the cooperation requirement on vulnerable individuals’ access to nutrition assistance, especially children. It's crucial for state agencies to carefully consider whether using this policy option will truly improve family outcomes or inadvertently create harm by reducing families’ access to vital nutrition assistance.

For more detailed information about the study, you can access the full report.

Page updated: June 06, 2024