Tennessee parents owe $2.6 billion in child support payments since the program began in 1975. And judges said the number of people who haven't paid to support their children recently seems to be growing.
There are currently 684 outstanding arrest warrants in Middle Tennessee for people who have consistently not paid child support.
It is a problem experts said mimics the economy, but Tennessee's numbers are worse than just about every other state in the country.
Juvenile Court Magistrate Scott Rosenberg sees countless cases in which single parents are trying to raise children without receiving any financial help from the child's other parent.
But for hundreds of area families, it is often still not enough to make a parent pay.
"I can understand if every week you try to make it and don't hit 100 percent. It's far different than paying zero," Rosenberg said.
He said when people are losing jobs because of a bad economy, it is often those near the bottom that get hit the hardest.
According to the Tennessee Department of Human Services, the state has collected only about half of the child support due in recent years.
The state was recently awarded grants to help both parents with and without criminal histories find jobs so they can start paying full child support.
"It is a very helpful tool, and we refer a lot of people there," Rosenberg said.
But Rosenberg said for those parents who refuse to get help, there need to be better laws to put them in jail.
"We need to probably look at different legislation," he said.
David Sanchez, DHS assistant commissioner of child support, is not sure more jail time is the solution, but he recognizes Tennessee needs to do better.
"Have the Legislature take a stronger hand in saying, 'feeding your children is your number one obligation. And if you don't, there will be consequences,'" Sanchez said. "We have much, much growth to make in this particular area."
The federal government ranked Tennessee 51st out of 54 states and territories for the amount of money paid in support of children.
Sanchez said in the past, the state has not used all of the resources available to fix the problem.
He plans to change that. His goal by the end of the year is to increase child support collections by 10 percent.
"We, as a child support system for the state of Tennessee, absolutely focus on how we are going to move those matrix. And we do have a strategy for that, both a short term and a long term strategy," he said.
Sanchez is meeting in a few weeks with Magistrate Rosenberg and others to discuss possible solutions.
So far this legislative session, there have been no bills filed that address Rosenberg's concerns.
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