Tag Archives: Economy

Reflecting on our accomplishments

Toddler Glazing Out WindowThe start of a new year is a good time to look back. We have been through a lot of changes in the past seven years. Let’s start with some of the sobering ones.

The Economy

The economic downturn affected parent earnings and child support program funding alike. During the height of the recession, support collected through income withholding declined by 3 percent, while support collected from unemployment insurance tripled between 2008 and 2010.

At the same time, the child support program experienced significant decreases in program funding and staffing levels. Our peak funding year was 2008 — before the recession — when program expenditures were $5.87 billion in nominal dollars. Since then, funding has declined over 3 percent to $5.69 billion in 2014. Structural labor market changes, increasingly complex families, and reduced program resources have all taken their toll.

Despite the setbacks, our performance has improved slowly but steadily since 2008. In 2014, we collected $28.2 billion, a 6 percent increase over the $26.6 billion collected in 2008, even as the caseload declined by almost 4 percent. Our support order establishment rate was almost 85 percent in 2014, compared to 79 percent in 2008. The percent of cases with a collection was 60 percent in 2014, compared to 57 percent in 2008. Our current collections rate was just over 64 percent in 2014, compared to less than 62 percent in 2008.

Doing business in a changing world

There is no question about it: The child support program has been challenged to find new ways to do business to be able to respond to unprecedented changes in our world. During the decade from 1999 through 2008, the child support community engaged in extensive national and regional discussions about the future of the program, examining such issues as:

  • The impact of organizational and funding decisions on the program;
  • The shift from welfare cost recovery to family distribution policies;
  • Strategies for addressing the accumulation of arrears;
  • The role of fathers in families;
  • The risks of domestic violence;
  • Opportunities for tribal services in Native American communities;
  • Strengths and limitations of automated enforcement tools; and
  • The critical relationship between having a job and paying support.

These state planning and early implementation efforts, along with growing research, laid the groundwork for a more holistic approach to reinforcing noncustodial parents’ financial responsibility to their children.

Family-centered strategies

Over the past seven years, we’ve successfully promoted a comprehensive family-centered framework designed to address barriers to employment, respond to changes in family roles, and increase the consistency of support payments. We are asking ourselves case-specific questions such as, “What are the reasons for nonpayment?” and “What would it take to obtain regular payments?” Practice in the field is shifting from a one-size-fits-all, standardized, and highly automated case management process to a more targeted approach that incorporates evidence-based practices framed as “the right tool for the right family every time.”

By strategically deploying a combination of early interventions, more thorough investigations, enforcement actions, and targeted services, we can do a better job of obtaining consistent child support for families. We have been working to build evidence about what works to increase support payments through our grant programs including the Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED), Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services (BICS), Parenting Time Opportunities for Children (PTOC) pilot projects, Tribal Innovations Grants (TIG), University Partnership grants, and more.

Tribal child support

Over the past few years, we’ve also managed a significant increase in tribal child support programs —more than doubling the number since 2009. We currently fund 62 comprehensive and start-up tribal programs. We also developed and launched our award-winning tribal child support system — the Model Tribal System (MTS) — that is now operational in nine tribes. Although it seems like just yesterday that we launched the system, we have now begun an MTS modernization project to take advantage of the flexibility and modularity offered by today’s technology.

Other technological advances

In 2009, we went live with our Child Support Portal. Passport Denial was the first application, followed by Federal Offset Online, Multistate Financial Institution Data Match Online, Locates Online, FCR Query, DoD Entitlements, Query Interstate Cases for Kids (QUICK), Debt Inquiry, eTermination, Employer Search and Electronic Document Exchange (EDE) accompanied by other federal system services such as Electronic Income Withholding Order (e-IWO) and FAST Levy.

International enforcement

We continue to advance the ball on international and interstate cooperation, with state-by-state enactment of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) 2008, following U.S. signature to The Hague treaty in 2007 and the Senate’s advice and consent in 2010, which you read about in the December 2015 Child Support Report. The treaty will greatly expand the number of countries that will recognize and enforce U.S. child support orders. Under the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, Public Law 113-183, all states must enact the UIFSA amendments as a condition of state plan approval and federal funding. States must adopt UIFSA 2008 in order for the U.S. to ratify the Hague treaty. All but two states have passed the legislation so far, and we expect to ratify the treaty this summer.

Managing change

In the January 2016 Child Support Report, Retired Oklahoma Child Support Director Gary Dart continues his four-part change management series, Do healthy families initiatives conflict with performance measures? This month, he explains how an approach that aims for the best possible outcomes for each case can also “reward” agencies with performance incentives. All of the articles in the change management series will be available on our Managing Change in the Child Support Program webpage soon.

Also, be sure to read the article “Outreach to federal inmates.” South Carolina tells us how it is reaching out to noncustodial parents in prison. We also offer some tips on helping job seekers struggling with digital job searches.

Needless to say, we’re off to a running start in 2016! Thank you all for your tenacious work over the past seven years — and over the past 40 years since the child support program was enacted. For four decades, we have never stood still. And families deserve no less from us.

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Is there more we can do to help moms?

Mom 1March is National Women’s History Month and a good time to consider how women—and, more specifically, moms—are faring in today’s economy.

First, the good news: we are seeing an upward trend nationally in the number of newly hired employees for the last 7 months. The economy is moving in the right direction.

But the sobering news is that women have experienced substantial job loss and declining earnings. While men took the biggest employment hits during the recession, women’s employment has lagged behind during the recovery. The majority of women’s job losses have been in public sector employment. Overall, the poverty rate for custodial families has increased significantly in recent years. (Falling Behind, the Women’s Foundation of California, January 2012)

The economic climate plays a role in how states set child support guidelines. When states review their child support guidelines (every 4 years), they look at studies of child-rearing expenditures that vary by age and economic method. One is the USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families: 2010 Annual Report.

The report shows that a middle-income family with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend about $226,920 for food, shelter and other necessities to raise that child over the next 17 years. That projection represents a 2 percent increase over 2009. The study also notes that family income affects child-rearing costs, as do costs of education beyond high school and geographic variation.

More custodial moms are saying they have lost their jobs or are working two and three jobs just to cover basic expenses. Many jobs are part-time, minimum-wage, and do not offer health insurance. When noncustodial parents can’t find work either, and stop paying reliable child support, family budgets face a perfect storm.

I understand that, up close and personal. For many years, I was that single mom raising two wonderful children by myself and working three part-time jobs. And many of you have been in the same boat, worried about how you will pay the rent, the electric bill, gas for the car, the children’s new shoes, the credit card bills—how you will stay afloat until child support payments start coming in.

Our mission is clear—to obtain reliable support for children. We have many powerful enforcement tools to collect child support when noncustodial parents have income, including wage withholding, bank account seizures, and driver’s license and passport suspensions. And for 70 percent of the cases in our caseload with support orders in place, these standard enforcement tools result in more than $24 billion in support income for families.

But our challenge is what to do when standard enforcement does not work. There is no question that our child support program is a balancing act, and that sometimes there simply is not enough money to go around. Family-centered child support services means, quite simply, going about our job of obtaining child support in a way that addresses the specific circumstances of the family in front of us. When the family needs the money, but the noncustodial parent is unemployed, we have to try something else, or the family will go without help. We need to work with both parents if we are to effectively serve real families in a time of economic need. “Sorry, we can’t help you” doesn’t put food on the table.

A child support professional recently emailed: “I have been working in child support for over a decade. It is good that there is more assistance for fathers than there used to be, but why is there no assistance for mothers? It seems we assume the only thing mothers need is child support; that only fathers need assistance on parenting. … There should be initiatives for both mother and father.”

Although there is no question that child support programs are struggling with budget cutbacks, there are many low-cost things we can do to do a better job connecting both parents to a range of needed community resources to help them keep their families afloat.

Are there brochures in the waiting room that tell moms and dads where to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when they are broke? Do our websites direct parents to local VITA centers (see the EITC reminder in the March Child Support Report) that help working parents file for Earned Income Tax Credits? Do we refer unemployed mothers and fathers to the workforce one-stop in the community? Do we ask about the health care coverage of the parents, as well as the children?

I’d like to hear more from the child support community. How do you assist moms to get help beyond traditional child support enforcement? And what about the grandparents in your caseload who are raising grandchildren?

Please leave a comment on this blog.

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