Child support program engages veteran and military families

Girl hugging man in military uniformMay highlights veterans and military families. In addition to National Military Appreciation Month, May hosts Armed Forces Day (May 18) and of course Memorial Day (the 27th).  Also, May 10 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

As child support workers, we have an obligation to work with families at their most vulnerable. We cannot repay the sacrifice that our service men and women and their families make for our country, but for many reasons, the child support program must pay special and well-deserved attention to military members, veterans, and their families. Here are some of those reasons:

  • About 50 percent of active duty members and 70 percent of Reserve and National Guard members are parents. See the OCSE fact sheet “Military Services and Child Support Partnerships.”
  • About 6 percent of the national child support caseload involves a veteran or a active military member.
  • Military families face extra challenges with multiple deployments and a higher divorce rate than the rest of the population.
  • A massive military drawdown by the Pentagon is set to begin this August.
  • Military members transitioning to veteran status often face a decrease in pay and a significant risk of unemployment.
  • Cases involving veteran parents are more likely to be interstate cases that require more attention.
  • Veteran noncustodial parents are likely to have significantly higher arrears—27 percent higher on average. See the OCSE fact sheet “Child Support Participation in Stand Down Events.”

In the coming months, OCSE will work with our partners at state, tribal, and local agencies, many of whom are already leading the way in outreach to military families. We plan to spread the word about their innovative services. We also plan to strengthen communication, systems, and policy links between child support and the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to support collaborations that add real value at the state and local levels. 

Resources to help you

On OCSE’s Military & Veterans webpage, you can find fact sheets and other resources to help you work with veteran and military families.  Here are a few:

A Handbook for Military Families: Helping You with Child Support – Our new handbook answers questions for both custodial and noncustodial parents on topics such as paternity establishment, child support, access and visitation, and child custody. While valuable for military families, the handbook is also useful to child support caseworkers and supervisors, as well as  military commanders. 

Working with the Military on Child Support Matters – Look for an update this summer. We regularly hear from caseworkers that this resource serves as an indispensible desk guide on military issues surrounding a child support case. 

A Child Support-VA Collaboration Toolkit – Look for our assessment later this year of nine pilot projects across the country that are helping veterans who are homeless. Through a partnership between OCSE, the VA, and the American Bar Association, the pilot projects are helping homeless veterans gain permanent housing through assistance with modifying child support orders and reducing arrears.

I’m particularly excited about our Veteran and Military Liaison Network. The network brings together staff from the state and local child support community to explore ways we can better serve those who have so proudly served us. Its members are connecting with each other smoothing the way for cases involving veterans and military families. For more information on the network or any other aspect of our work with veterans and military families, please contact Thom Campbell at thom.campbell@acf.hhs.gov.

 

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The child support program plays many roles in minority health

Three minority childrenTwo major health care dates are approaching rapidly: October 2013 when the Health Insurance Marketplace opens for enrollment and January 2014 when health coverage begins. Have you considered what this means to your program? Many of the families we serve might not realize that they are newly eligible for Medicaid and other state health insurance programs or that assistance is available to make health insurance more affordable. It’s important to educate families about coverage options and direct them to appropriate resources that will help them with the enrollment process. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has resources to help states with their outreach campaigns around health care coverage. The resources offer brochures in several languages including Spanish, Chinese and Tagalog. The brochure provides ways for consumers to prepare for enrollment and offers important notes about the Health Insurance Marketplace. CMS has also conducted research on the most effective ways to communicate about the Marketplace to our customers. I encourage you to read “Talking about the Marketplace” to learn messages to use in your communication and outreach efforts to families. 

In addition to work around health, we’re helping to improve access to and services for our Latino customers. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is hosting a Roundtable at the White House with Hispanic/Latino leaders later this month to discuss opportunities for collaboration with ACF programs, including child support. Latino service providers, advocates and researchers from across the country as well as key HHS and White House representatives are invited to participate in the Roundtable. Although discussions will center on increasing Latino access to human service programs like Head Start, Child Care, and other ACF programs, the Roundtable will also touch on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Latinos. The “lunch and learn” portion of the Roundtable will host an HHS official to discuss the impact of the ACA on the Latino community and offer ways we can help connect families and individuals to coverage.

For additional resources to help you engage with the Latino community, check out these resources:

Child Support Hispanic Outreach Toolkit

Spanish-language ACF Program Directory and Community & Faith-Based Guide to Resources

ACF newsletter dedicated to Latinos, Infόrmate. It provides information on ACF programs, outreach, resources, and employment opportunities.

 

 

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Three Tiers—a roadmap of strategies to improve program performance

Three push pins on a roadmapHigh performing states use a mix of strategies to boost child support performance. These strategies can be grouped into three tiers. They are: 

  1. Focus on the fundamentals. Make sure that computer systems, new hire reporting, and income withholding (e-IWO) are working well.  
  2. Identify the performance problem. Identify the reason for irregular support payments, intervene early and set realistic obligations.
  3. Expand access to services. Partner with other programs and reprogram resources to address barriers to nonpayment through family-centered services.

Here’s a little more about each tier:

Tier One: Reduce the compliance gap in current collections—focus on fundamentals. This means a strong technology infrastructure and strong employer interface so that employers report new hires and implement timely income withholding orders. To reduce the compliance gap:

  • Automate as much as you can to manage information, case flow, locate, establishment, enforcement, and disbursement—everything from e-IWO to document imaging to data analytics and performance management.
  • Clean up your employer database.
  • Implement e-IWO, starting with one employer, perhaps, and then bringing in large employers, and then other employers in the state.
  • Conduct employer outreach to strengthen your relationships with the employer community, and educate (and re-educate) employers about their new hire reporting responsibilities.
  • Identify self-employment and cash wages.
  • Implement your access to OCSE’s State Services Portal.
  • Verify Social Security numbers, which are key for locating parents.

Tier Two: Identify the reasons for nonpayment. Improving performance requires caseworkers to analyze who is in the caseload, who is paying and who is not, who has the ability to pay but is unwilling, and who is unable to pay the full amount ordered. By setting an order the parents can realistically comply with, we increase reliable payments and decrease the accumulation of unpaid debt. These are essentially the PAID (Project to Avoid Increasing Delinquencies) strategies and include:

  • Caseload stratification and segmentation: Use data to understand your caseload and select the right tool for the right person at the right time. Is driver’s license suspension or help getting a job going to be more effective in collecting reliable support payments?
  • Early intervention to prevent debt build-up: For example, contact the noncustodial parent when payments stop to find out what happened and work with the parent to get back on track. In fact, if you meet with noncustodial or even both parents before the order is established, you can often start a good relationship with the parents and improve cooperation with the child support office and each other. 
  • Setting realistic obligations:  If you set realistic orders, modify them quickly when circumstances change, and reduce state debt to manageable levels, you can expect compliance. But if the orders are too high, parents can’t comply and will walk away from you and, even worse, from their kids.

Tier Three: Remove the barriers to child support payment by partnering with other programs to offer family-centered services. We know that success in collecting current child support depends on steady jobs and manageable family relationships. Adding a service delivery component to child support programs is a challenge, but it can be done.  

  • Partner with other programs and community-based organizations in the “bubble chart” domains. For example, many child support offices partner with TANF; workforce agencies; fatherhood, veterans, and prisoner reentry programs; substance abuse services; and literacy and financial education programs. Parenting classes and parenting time, too, can help parents stabilize their lives, get and keep jobs, and be a parent to their children.
  • Reprogram resources for less productive activities. Look at what works and what doesn’t work. Collect data. Look at cost-effectiveness. Contempt hearings are expensive. No-shows are expensive. Multiple enforcement efforts and revolving doors are expensive. Is there a better way to increase consistent payments and boost collections?

I look forward to talking more with all of you in the child support community about using the three-tiered approach—a roadmap for improving the outcomes for children and families.

 

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Statistics are critical to our program

Colorful bar graph through a magnifying glassI just learned (via the U.S. Census Bureau) that 2013 is International Year of Statistics. A page full of statistics can be scary to some, but statistics is one of my favorite words. In OCSE, we have a division of dedicated staff members who collect and analyze statistics—a critical component of our program. Because we audit program data (through another OCSE office of dedicated auditors), we have program data that we trust.

Why do I like statistics? Well, first of all, child support statistics have given us the tools we need for measuring and presenting the efficiency and effectiveness of our national program to the public. The fact that we can measure our performance, and do so with audited, accurate data, has helped us demonstrate program accountability, identify program trends, and correct course when those data identify performance problems.    

Statistics are critical, too, as we train our own staffs. In the February Child Support Report, New York City Director Frances Pardus-Abbadessa describes the need to get buy-in from every staff member to understand the culture of change in our program, including the importance of treating both custodial and noncustodial parents fairly in every case. 

We pay attention to statistics published at various times of the year to understand trends in our caseload and improve our outreach services. For example, see the articles in the same Child Support Report on Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the Latino Resource Center, and the IRS Earned Income Tax Credit; they all contain pertinent statistics.

But most importantly, statistics gives us a window on the families we serve. What does our caseload look like? What are the demographic factors we need to understand? And what does data tell us about effective strategies for reaching our goal: obtaining consistent child support payments for families? An example of how data changed the way we thought about arrears management is the series of state studies conducted several years ago by the Urban Institute that found that 70 percent of noncustodial parents who owe child support arrears had reported incomes below $10,000 per year. (You can find the report on the HHS website.)

Here are some statistics that are worth repeating because they play an important part in the program’s success:

  • Child support provides about 40 percent of family income for the poor families who receive it, and 10 percent of income for all poor custodial families.
  • Child support is a critical program for poor families; about half of families in the program are below 150 percent of the poverty level, while 90 percent are below 400 percent of poverty. The child support program is one of the “big three” income support programs (along with Earned Income Tax Credit and SNAP) that provides a safety net for poor families.
  • The child support program demonstrates a high return on investment. In FY 2011, the program collected $5.12 for every dollar it spent.

I look forward to two new OCSE reports this year that will give us a deeper understanding of those and other statistics in our program. The first is a “Story Behind the Numbers” fact sheet that analyzes the Census Bureau’s “Child Support Supplement to the Current Population Survey.” We expect to publish the fact sheet soon.

The second report will delve into data analytics. Over the last year, we have been collaborating with a contractor to assess our various data sources so we can use them more easily and effectively. We are developing a conceptual design document and requirement specifications to build an internal child support dashboard framework that will allow us to analyze our data in more robust ways. As many state and local child support programs know, dashboards are great tools for tracking outcomes visually through devices such as bar charts, time series trends and pie charts. They help us to tell the “story behind the numbers.” In addition, users will be able to quickly aggregate data from our data sources and drill down for further analysis. We expect to complete this project in late spring, and we’ll keep you posted.

I hope that many of you will share my focus on statistics this year, as we use data to help us improve ways we manage our program and provide services to all parents and families we serve.

 

 

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Setting our sights high in 2013

Girl reaching up to treeThis New Year, I want to first congratulate all of you—child support professionals in state, tribal and local agencies, and in OCSE offices around the country—for setting your sights high on helping children, parents and families throughout 2012, and succeeding in countless ways.

January always seems to call out for an ambitious list of plans. As we work together to improve the lives of families in 2013, here are three aspects of our program that OCSE will focus on next year.

Program modernization

Today’s technology makes it possible to use data analytics to stratify child support caseloads and identify specific strategies to maximize success. We are no longer in a world that requires us to throw every enforcement tool at every case to see what sticks. Instead, we have the know-how to use program resources more efficiently by matching the right child support tools to the right case at the right time. 

The key words here are “caseload stratification”—the idea that different cases should be handled equitably but differently, depending upon the financial circumstances of both parents, to improve performance outcomes and customer service. In 2013, OCSE will examine ways to increase our effective use of national data under a contract with Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Program modernization also requires updated policies and procedures. Over the last two years, we’ve benefitted from state and tribal program input to develop a proposed rule to support state program flexibility, efficiency and modernization. Although we cannot say for certain when, we hope to publish the proposed rule in 2013 and incorporate your comments to draft the final rule.  

In 2013, OCSE also will conduct a set of national and regional conversations to inform development of medical child support policy options that support an evolving health care system. 

Program modernization also requires a focus on training, change management and program messaging, which OCSE will continue to highlight in 2013—including a proposed name change to Office of Child Support Services (CSS) in the works.  

Intergovernmental enforcement

We live in an increasingly complex and global child support world. As Congress considers legislation to update the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to implement the Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, OCSE continues to prepare for ratification of the Hague Convention by strengthening OCSE’s capacity to serve as Central Authority for international child support cases. 

At the same time, the number of tribal child support programs in this country has more than doubled in the past five years. As we complete our pilot phase of the Model Tribal System conducted by Forest County Potawatomi Community and Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, we will make the MTS available to all interested tribes and tribal consortia beginning next year.

We also will continue to expand state use of our FPLS portal services (including QUICK). Our ambitious goal is to add 10 more states this year, for a total 48 states by the end of the year. 

In 2013, we will continue to promote technologies, policies, and best practices to support efficient intergovernmental case processing. 

Research

We have launched the National Noncustodial Parent Employment demonstration project to conduct a rigorous national evaluation, including a random assignment research design and benefit-cost analysis, to determine whether unemployed noncustodial parents who receive employment services pay more child support.  

This is a five-year grant-funded project that will be evaluated by Mathematica and Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, with demonstration sites in eight states.

We also have a grant project to identify successful parenting-time models in five states and are managing an ACF grant project in seven states to identify models for effective systems interoperability and innovative cross-program technology.  

In 2013, we also will continue to expand our activities to identify demographic, performance and budget data trends impacting the child support program.

As we look ahead, 2013 promises to be another busy year at OCSE and throughout the national (and international!) child support program. I am so grateful for your commitment to families and children, and wish you a very happy and productive New Year.

 

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Model Tribal System readying for launch

Today 58 tribes operate start-up or comprehensive child support programs—10 more than a year ago. These tribal programs are reaching custodial and noncustodial parents in their communities, helping them support their children financially and enrich their children’s lives emotionally, in a culturally appropriate manner.

As partners in the national child support program, OCSE and tribal child support programs will cross a much-anticipated milestone early next year when OCSE launches the Model Tribal System (MTS). The MTS is an award-winning, state-of-the-art computer system designed to recognize the importance and benefits of integrating automation in the daily operations of comprehensive tribal child support programs. The MTS will serve as a key tool for programs to improve efficiency in case management and develop other areas of the program, offering tribal agencies and consortia direct access to similar technologies and automated systems that state child support agencies have had for years. The MTS uses open software to support organizations with up to 25 offices and 100 concurrent users, handling workloads of up to 25,000 cases.

By improving the level of automation in tribal child support programs, the MTS can increase program capacity to work more cases. The MTS will automate distribution, reporting, referrals—all aspects of casework. The MTS also will allow tribes to tailor their automated systems to their needs, for example, even something as simple as putting their logos on letters to custodial and noncustodial parents. And, the MTS will help free up more time for workers to talk face-to-face with clients, an approach that characterizes tribal programs.  

The launch will follow several years of tribal consultation, research, design and development in OCSE—using tribal requirements—as well as testing the system in two tribal child support programs: the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma and Forest County Potawatomi Community. I appreciate the hard work, time, and resources provided by these two tribal programs to test the MTS. Other tribal programs, too, had a chance to explore and experiment with the MTS in a national “sandbox,” an operational version of the system.

OCSE will make the MTS available to all interested tribes and continue to collaborate with tribes on the launch plans and technical assistance requests, respectful of tribal sovereignty and the beliefs and traditions of all people in Indian Country.

Earlier this month, I reached out to tribal leaders operating child support programs about MTS implementation issues such as timing, schedule, and funding resources. Based on the leaders’ feedback, we will gauge interest in installing and using the MTS, and then customize the launch plan, considering our available resources. You can find information about funding for tribal automated systems and the Model Tribal System on the OCSE web page for Tribal Systems.

As this year ends and we welcome 2013, we will continue to work in partnership with tribes operating child support programs. We hope you will share ideas with us on improvements and opportunities you foresee in your agency as the MTS becomes available. I appreciate your comments on this blog.

 

 

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Change management in the child support program

Road sign "Change Ahead"“Managing change in the workplace” is a catchphrase in today’s government and business worlds. Within our child support community, we, too, are exploring ways to manage change in our program.   

In many ways, the child support program exemplifies a “culture of change.” Child support has steadily evolved over the decades from a welfare cost-recovery model to a major family support program in a technologically savvy environment. We are combining traditional and automated child support tools with innovative, family-focused approaches to promote parental responsibility, to move more nonpaying cases to paying status, and to increase the reliability of child support payment. The “bubble chart” illustrates this approach.   

At the same time, the child support program in a number of states and counties has been grappling with another set of changes related to staff reductions, limited resources, and reorganization. While our bubble chart helps us envision the program’s culture change, our challenge is to create an environment that stimulates this new approach in the context of more constrained program resources.   

Managing change in the child support world means creating a workplace where all staff understand and value the program’s increased emphasis on obtaining regular support payments for children, rather than its traditional focus on debt threshold-based enforcement. Quite simply, we know that programs can collect child support more reliably when a noncustodial parent receives a regular paycheck and when an income withholding order is in place. The program collects 70 percent of payments through income withholding. 

Managing this shift in emphasis requires a more complex case management environment—one where the computer helps caseworkers stratify caseloads and select the right tool for the right person at the right time to increase the likelihood of reliable support. The shift means implementing early intervention strategies, sensible policies and practices, and service delivery approaches to address barriers to payment. It means more collaboration with other programs and agencies. It means accepting both parents as our customers in the best interest of their child and finding the right balance of enforcement and engagement to get the results families need. It means believing that what we all do—as individuals and together—makes a profound difference in the well-being of the children and families we serve.  

Our child support colleagues across the country are managing change in many ways. Some are implementing strategies, continuous process improvement tools, and performance assessments to increase program efficiencies and the potential for positive outcomes. Others are creating strategic collaborations that respond to specific challenges of our diverse customer population, such as poverty, poor health, incarceration and joblessness. Programs are making organizational changes throughout, adopting new agency names and new ways of working together, in order to promote a more family-centered and effective approach to obtaining reliable support. Many programs are effecting change, from program administrators to line staff, through cross-agency discussions, strategic planning, and employee training and mentoring.  

The October-November 2012 Child Support Report newsletter begins a series of articles about managing child support program change. Illinois Director Pam Lowry explains how she and other leaders encouraged staff to think about how to rebalance the program through dialogue. They held conversations throughout the agency as a logical next step in a progression of service delivery improvements and spurred by the recent Turner v. Rogers decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. On page 4, Oklahoma Director Gary Dart tells us about the driving force behind his state’s overarching, strategic goal—healthy families. On page 5, former Georgia Director Keith Horton explains streamlined processes to give their customers faster, friendlier and easier services. 

Change management is key to helping us move toward a family-centered child support services model that recognizes that parents pay child support more reliably when they have a job and stay connected to their children. I hope you consider some of the ideas in our series of articles in the coming year. Let me know how your agency is managing change by sharing your thoughts on this Commissioner’s Voice blog.

 

 

 

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New poverty data matter to our program

Colorful number blocksOn Sept. 12, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual household income report, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011. Each year, child support professionals eagerly anticipate this release as we develop our priorities and projects that will best serve families. The report is based on a yearly Census survey and represents the official federal poverty numbers. These numbers reflect money income only and do not reflect in-kind public assistance or tax credits. (You can see a summary brief from the HHS Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation.

First the good news: the Census Bureau data indicate that the number and rate of children living in poverty has leveled off. There were 16.1 million children under 18 years old living in poverty in 2011, not a significant change from 2010. The child poverty rate was 21.9 percent in 2011, also not a significant change. In 2011, the poverty threshold for a family of one adult and two children was $18,123, and for one adult $11,702.

In addition, the proportion of children living in deep poverty (those with income below one-half of the federal poverty threshold) has declined slightly. In 2011, 7.3 million children, or 9.8 percent, were living in deep poverty, compared to 9.9 percent in 2010. Children in deep poverty represented 45 percent of all children in poverty.

The number and percentage of children without health coverage remained level in 2010 and 2011. In 2011, 7 million children, or 9.4 percent, did not have health insurance. Children 12 to 17 had a higher uninsured rate than those under 12. Children in poverty were more likely to be uninsured (13.8 percent) than all children, and Hispanic children were most likely to be uninsured (15.1 percent).

The number of men working full-time, year-round with earnings increased by 1.7 million between 2010 and 2011; however, this was 5 million less than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession. The number of women working full-time, year-round increased by .5 million, but was 1.9 million less than in 2007. In addition, the percent of people without health insurance coverage declined from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 in 2011.

Although the economy is recovering, the big picture is that the child poverty rate rose in seven of the last 10 years. Children living in female-headed families with no spouse present had a poverty rate of 47.6 percent in 2011, over 4 times the rate of children in married-couple families (10.9 percent). The child poverty rate in 2011 was 5.7 percentage points higher than in 2000, when the child poverty rate was 16.2 percent. And the proportion of children living in deep poverty was 3.1 points higher in 2011 than the 6.7 percent rate in 2000. Among children:

  • The poverty rate for African-American children was 37.4 percent in 2011. This is up 7.2 points from 30.2 percent in 2001.
  • The poverty rate for Hispanic children was 34.1 percent in 2011, up 7.2 points from the 2006 low of 26.9 percent. 
  • The poverty rate for White (non-Hispanic) children was 12.5 percent in 2011, up 3.4 points from 9.1 percent in 2000. 

The real median income for all households was 8.1 percent lower in 2011 than in 2007 and 8.9 percent lower than the median household income peak in 1999. The real median earnings of both men and women working full-time, year-round declined 2.5 percent between 2010 and 2011. The median earnings of women who worked full-time, year-round ($37,118) was 77 percent of that for men working full-time, year-round ($48,202)—compared to just under 59 percent in 1975. 

Other Census Bureau data indicate that about 28 percent of the U. S. population had at least one spell of poverty lasting two or more months, but that chronic poverty was relatively uncommon, with 4.8 percent of the population living in poverty for all 24 months.

I look forward to hearing about ways your agency is putting the data to work.

 

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Preparing for an emergency

Girl filling gallon container with waterWhen an earthquake shook the East Coast a year ago, damage in DC was minimal, although OCSE staff was a bit rattled. However, the experiences of many of our colleagues in child support offices around the country have been far more challenging—many of you have been hit hard, both professionally and personally, yet you have persevered to return to business as usual after floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados. You speak from experience: We must all prepare for disasters.

Since Hurricane Irene flooded the Vermont child support office in Waterbury last August, Office of Child Support Director Jeff Cohen has spoken to groups about scrambling to remove the servers and hardware and get them to an alternate site. All 46 state child support employees, including those at the State Disbursement Unit, became homeless overnight, says Director Cohen. The office had a plan, having responded to floods, flu outbreaks, and even a computer virus that took out their network for weeks; however, they did not expect the enormity of the coming storm. He emphasizes that everyone should have a plan in place. (See the page 1 article in the August 2012 Child Support Report.) 

Over the past couple years, colleagues in New York, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Texas, Oregon and elsewhere have been forced to recover from large-scale natural disasters in their states and tribal lands that destroyed houses, businesses and sometimes child support offices. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August 2005, child support directors in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas rallied their employees to locate families in the program—and one another—as many vacated their flooded homes. For families affected by any disaster, a break in child support operations means a break in getting money to buy children’s clothing, school supplies, groceries and medicines. After the hurricanes, child support workers teamed up across the country to help every facet of the struggling programs and the families they were serving.  

OCSE and our 10 regional offices have COOPs (Continuity of Operations Plan) that identify core functions our government wants to make sure continues in an emergency. For ACF programs, this is typically funding of grants. OCSE has some unique operational functions that we must maintain, including the Federal Parent Locator Service and Federal Offset. We must also continue to respond to FPLS inquiries from states and telephone inquiries from the public, parents and Congress on behalf of its constituents. The plan also identifies essential staff and alternate sites.

OCSE also has authority to assist states to replace lost or damaged computer equipment or services, and we can waive our requirements for prior approval of federal funding to assist states to replace equipment and obtain services to install computers. By rapidly restoring states’ critical computer systems and services, which our programs depend on to manage our day-to-day operations, we ensure the shortest interruptions possible in our service delivery to families and children.

A federal interagency operational plan is in the works. It is not specific to the child support program; rather it discusses how agencies will work together with state, local and private organizations to respond to disasters.

You can read about federal assistance programs on the website for the Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Administration for Children and Families. September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. You may want to mark the occasion by looking at material on the Department of Homeland Security’s  FEMA website. Let us know how OCSE can help you with your plans. Share some of your tips on the Commissioner’s Voice blog.

 

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Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions

U.S. Supreme CourtJune 20 marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Turner v. Rogers case. (See the July 2012 Child Support Report.)  Mr. Turner, the noncustodial parent, was ordered to pay $51.73 per week in child support. Over the course of several years, he was held in civil contempt for nonpayment and incarcerated a number of times.

After the last hearing, Mr. Turner appealed. He alleged that his constitutional rights were violated. He argued that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment required the state to provide him with appointed counsel in a civil contempt hearing that could lead to incarceration. Neither the custodial parent nor the state child support program was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

In Turner, the Supreme Court held (based upon the circumstances in his case) that a state does not necessarily need to provide counsel to a defendant in a child support civil contempt proceeding, as long as the state provides adequate procedural safeguards. The Supreme Court said that due process does require an express finding by the state court that the noncustodial parent has the ability to pay the purge order based upon the individual facts of the case. Last month, I issued policy guidance for state child support agencies implementing the Turner decision and information about alternatives to incarceration.

As a result of the Turner v. Rogers decision, state child support agencies and courts are examining their civil contempt procedures. The goal is not to eliminate contempt procedures in cases where it may be appropriate, but instead to implement fair and cost-effective procedures that assure that families receive reliable child support payments, improve fairness and access to justice for parents without an attorney, and reduce the need for jail time. Incarceration may indeed be appropriate in those cases where noncustodial parents can afford to support their children but willfully evade their parental responsibilities by hiding income and assets. However, jail is not appropriate for noncustodial parents who do not have the means to pay their child support debts. 

The first step to reducing the need for contempt hearings is to set accurate child support orders. The research is clear that setting realistic orders based on actual income can actually improve compliance, increasing both the amount of child support collected and the consistency of payment. The research says that compliance falls off when orders are set above 15 to 20 percent of a noncustodial parent’s income.

On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. For the 30 million Americans who don’t yet have health insurance, this law will offer an array of quality, affordable, private health insurance plans to choose from starting in 2014. Those who can’t afford insurance will get tax credits that make coverage affordable.  

Already, 34 states including the District of Columbia have received 100 percent federally funded grants to set up health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, which will allow individuals and small businesses to compare and choose private health plans. Each state will take the lead in designing its own menu of options. In the child support program, we know that our medical child support responsibilities are evolving. We look forward to working with child support professionals in the coming months and years to develop medical child support policies that complement state health care policy decisions and work for families.

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