The Affordable Care Act will help parents and children in our caseload

Logo badge that links to healthcare.govWe have 40 million people in our child support caseload, including about 24 million adults. A third of the people in our caseload have incomes below the federal poverty level. According to a recent Urban Institute analysis of Census data (now on the OCSE website), our program served nearly 80 percent of poor custodial families in 2009. The Affordable Care Act will help make health care coverage more affordable and accessible for the people in our caseload. While obtaining medical support for children remains an ongoing responsibility, your child support office also can refer parents—both mothers and fathers—to the Health Insurance Marketplace.

States have new opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage to include adults without children living at home who have incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (about $15,000 for an individual). Community health centers have more funding than before. When I was a young mother, I didn’t have health insurance. We went to a public health center for my kids’ check-ups. My first son was born three months prematurely. We were still paying $10 per month toward that hospital bill when my second son had emergency surgery. I applied for Medicaid. I will always remember how I felt when my caseworker said, “We can take care of it. We can cover the bill. Don’t worry.”

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What is our medical support road map?

Photo of smartphone showing road map, on top of a paper road mapOn Oct. 1, 2013, enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace will begin under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while coverage will begin on Jan. 1, 2014. Child support agencies have an important role to play in connecting uninsured parents and their children to health care coverage by providing them with information about and referrals to the Health Insurance Marketplace.

But as important as these dates are for consumers, they are not child support program deadlines. Child support program requirements will not change on Oct. 1 and Jan. 1. Instead, we will continue to keep doing what we are doing—what our statute directs us to do, which is to provide for child health care coverage in child support orders. Employers still have the same medical child support responsibilities to respond to the National Medical Support Notice as they had before. Over time, the ACA will likely impact how we carry out our medical child support responsibilities, but not directly and not tomorrow.

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New campaign targets children of incarcerated parents

Girl with new Sesame Street character named MurrayOn June 12, just before Father’s Day, the White House hosted a Champions of Change event honoring 12 individuals who have dedicated themselves to supporting children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers. Some of these children and caregivers attended the festivities, and so did some Muppets!

Perhaps the most exciting part of the event was the announcement of a new partnership with Sesame Workshop (a nonprofit, educational organization) to reach young children of incarcerated parents. Sesame Workshop’s newest initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, provides free, bilingual (English/Spanish), multimedia tools for families with young children (ages 3 to 8) who have an incarcerated parent. The tools include a guide for parents and caregivers, a children’s storybook, Sesame Street videos, a tip sheet, and the Sesame Street: Incarceration mobile app, all at SesameStreet.org/Incarceration.

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Health care options for families

Bubble ChartOne of the “bubbles” in the child support bubble chart is health care coverage. In identifying family-centered strategies over the last four years, I have highlighted family health care needs. Through our medical support activities, the child support program has long had the responsibility to obtain private health insurance for the children in our caseload. Now we can play a critical role in providing information to both parents about the range of available health care options—for their children and for themselves.

Later this month, OCSE plans to launch two new fact sheet series to explain child support and health care connections under the Affordable Care Act and to address promising medical child support policies and practices under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. Watch for them on our website, www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css.

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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:

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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.

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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: Read More: Three Tiers—a roadmap of strategies to improve program performance

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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.

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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.

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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.

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