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A Guide to Exploring Child Support Debt in Your State


Published: July 8, 2004



ATTACHMENT: "A Guide to Exploring Child Support Debt in Your State"(Adobe PDF)

DATE: July 8, 2004


RE: “Understanding Child Support Debt -- A Guide to Exploring Child Support Debt in Your State”

Dear Colleague:

I am very pleased to provide you with this practical Guide, “Understanding Child Support Debt” that gives a framework for your state child support enforcement program staff to examine child support debt. This Guide provides insights into how we can make better use of our technological tools and other resources to increase child support collections from parents who are able to pay, and prevent the accumulation of large amounts of debt from those who are unable to pay.

As highlighted in the Guide, the child support enforcement community has already begun studying child support debt in order to better manage arrears. Such efforts include adopting new procedures, setting more appropriate orders for low-income parents, and/or expanding resources to enhance collection capabilities. Debt analyses should not focus on writing off debt. We can enhance collections by making better use of existing resources, such as the National Directory of New Hires, Passport Denial Program, Multi-state Financial Institution Data Match, and Federal Offset.

The Office of Child Support Enforcement and the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Department of Health and Human Services, have a contract with the Urban Institute to conduct a “Child Support Debt Analysis Study” in nine states with the largest caseloads. The aim of this study is to understand the composition of child support arrears, the causes for their dramatic growth, and what steps may be taken to curb future arrears growth. Each of the nine states has been asked to prepare and provide OCSE a series of extracts from its child support data. These extracts consist of all cases with an obligation to pay. OCSE will match these data to six quarters of national quarterly earnings records, the national new hire directory, and national unemployment insurance records. Once these matches are complete, OCSE will remove personal identifiers from the data and send them to the Urban Institute for analysis.

OCSE has agreed to provide the same information and analysis to other states that are interested. If you are interested in pursuing this option, please contact Dennis Putze at (202) 401-4030 or dputze@acf.hhs.gov. Please note that OCSE will remove all personal identifiers from the files before sending them to the Urban Institute. If your state prefers to hire a consultant to do its analysis, it will be the state’s responsibility to remove personal identifiers before giving its data to the consultant.

In addition, OCSE has begun to analyze national data by matching cases from the Federal Offset File with the Quarterly Wage Files. From that match, OCSE will create summary tables that include data for each state and the nation. One of these tables is included in this Guide. As additional data become available, OCSE will share them with the states.

I hope that your state staff will find useful ideas in this Guide about effective strategies to collect debt from those who have the ability to pay and appropriate policies for those low-income parents who are unable to pay.


Sherri Z. Heller, Ed.D.
Office of Child Support Enforcement

Enclosure: “Understanding Child Support Debt”

cc: ACF Regional Administrators
ACF Regional Program Managers

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