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Tag Archives: Technology
The 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the national child support program. Check out our 40th Anniversary infographic on our website to see some of the ways we’ve changed!
Thanks primarily to technology and proactive income withholding, our collections have increased from less than $1 billion to $28 billion, and our cost-effectiveness ratio has increased from $3.25 to $5.25 over the past four decades. Today, 75 percent of collections are made through payroll deductions. By the end of the year, almost all child support programs will use our centralized electronic income withholding (e-IWO) process through OCSE’s child support portal, under new legislation enacted by the Congress last fall.
One of the great things about the child support program is that we continue to innovate. Our portal applications include two of our more recent tools:
The first is Lump Sum Reporting: our centralized automated process that enables employers to provide information about employees who are eligible to receive a bonus or lump sum payment. As of July 2015:
- Forty-nine states and territories receive notifications from employers using Lump Sum Reporting, and
- More than 130 employers are participating, representing over 1,500 Federal Employer Identification Numbers.
The second is Terminations (or, as we call it, eTerm): our centralized, automated process that enables employers to notify states about an individual’s employment status. As of July 2015:
- Forty-five states and territories receive notifications from employers using eTerm, and
- More than 130 employers, with over 1,500 Federal Employer Identification Numbers, are participating.
Some of you may remember the days when income withholding orders sent to employers were handwritten. Today, employers expect to receive the OMB-approved Income Withholding for Support form to withhold child support and to send payments to a centralized state disbursement unit. In 2011, OCSE included language in the IWO instructions for employers to reject orders when they are not on the OMB-approved form or do not direct payment to a state disbursement unit.
With four decades of experience, the national child support program continues to excel. Our forward momentum depends upon modern technology and innovative strategies to respond to the needs of today’s families.
Read the August edition of the Child Support Report to find out how child support programs are continuing to improve.
About 10 years ago, we decided to remodel our house—mostly infrastructure work. We decided to replace the roof and siding, install modern doors, put in more windows, and—the fun project—remodel the kitchen.
One morning, our contractor said, “You need to replace the band boards.” I shrugged, and said, “Ok, how much will that cost?” He repeated with some urgency, “You need to replace your band boards now. They have rotted.” He paused, cleared his throat, and said, “Do you know what a band board is?” I shook my head. He said, “The band boards are the only thing attaching the second floor to the first floor.” Well, that little item was not in the budget. But I told him to fix the band boards first.
If customer service is the door to the child support program, and family-centered strategies are the windows to the rest of the world, technology is the band boards. And if the band boards need attention, that has to be the first priority for state child support programs. It’s clear that fixing the band boards, or in our case, replacing our legacy systems and technologies, is the most pressing need and top priority for many state child support agencies. In most states, child support computer systems are 15 years old.
Some of the questions we’ve heard time and again at OCSE are: “Can I use Commercial-Off-The-Shelf or ‘COTS’ software to build it?”; “What are the best new systems out there in the last five years that I might be able to leverage for my own replacement project?”; “How do I decide what the best option is for my program, my state?”; and of course, the question we hear most often, “Where do I begin?”
In the last five years, OCSE has given states more flexibility and opportunity to upgrade technology. Technology options are more flexible and modular than ever before. In 2010, we reformed the Advance Planning Document (APD) federal approval process to recognize the ongoing improvements in technology, and to give states more flexibility on low-risk projects. Under the APD process, states can now submit a feasibility study to define possible solutions, and compare, evaluate, and ultimately identify your best value to a new child support system. With an acceptable feasibility study comes not only substantial federal funding, but also significant technical assistance from OCSE throughout the life of the state’s system development project.
Recent OCSE guidance can help states take advantage of the full array of new and evolving technology products and services that can support the efficient operation and administration of not only child support programs, but also Child Welfare, Medicaid and Food Stamp programs.
We worked with a number of other federal human service programs and their state counterparts to design a comprehensive architectural framework to facilitate information sharing, improve service delivery, prevent fraud, and provide better outcomes for children and families. Called the National Human Services Interoperability Architecture (NHSIA), it brings together pieces from other architecture models such as the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA). NHSIA offers a foundation for common understanding, interoperability, standards, and reuse.
We also began working on a method for ensuring a reusable, repeatable standard for exchanging data between systems through the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM).
Finally, we continue our focus on delivering to our state and tribal programs the most timely, accurate technical assistance on technology-related issues. Whether you seek the advice of the technology staffs in our federal or state systems divisions here in OCSE, consult with staff in another state that has tackled a major system replacement project, or rely on your state’s knowledgeable information technology people, the idea of replacing your child support system should not be as daunting as it was 10 or 15 years ago.
Think of your child support program like you do house renovations—are you in need of a little paint and caulk, are you modernizing the windows and doors, and putting in a new kitchen—or is replacing the band boards your first order of business? We can help.
I invite the child support community of workers to submit a comment on this blog, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org, director of the OCSE Division of State and Tribal Systems, for more information.
Technology has the power to help break down silos between state health and human services programs and improve customer service. The promise of interoperable computer systems is that families will not have to go through multiple applications, interviews and appointments to receive services, and taxpayers will save money.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is spurring states across the Nation to create new eligibility and enrollment computer systems for Medicaid and health insurance exchanges. The ACA presents a unique opportunity for state health and human services programs to integrate their systems both vertically and horizontally, and bring our programs one step closer to the “no wrong door” approach to service delivery. In the past, this was not possible due to the requirement to cost allocate federal dollars across multiple programs.
However, through Dec. 31, 2015, states can design, develop and implement system modules that perform common functions across all health and human services programs with enhanced 90/10 federal funding if they request a federal cost allocation waiver.
Under a waiver, programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as Food Stamps), and child care services can be included in the state Medicaid agency’s project to build a new eligibility determination system. Other programs, like child support and child welfare, also can join the effort to integrate service delivery to families.
In anticipation, OCSE’s parent agency, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), launched the Interoperability Initiative to help state human services programs effectively collaborate with their health care agency counterparts: Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and health insurance exchanges. In late March, OCSE was asked to manage ACF’s Interoperability Initiative because we have the background and extensive experience with data exchange standards, systems design and development, and grants management.
Our interoperability project team is busy on a number of fronts:
- We are standing up the first Human Services Domain in NIEM (the National Information Exchange Model). It will eventually establish a common set of data elements and definitions in a format easily exchanged between different human services systems, and in fact with any system.
- We are designing a common architecture and platform for all human services programs, called the National Human Services Interoperability Architecture (NHSIA), to support states to build less expensive, but more integrated human services systems in the future.
- And we recently added a new project called Data Exchange Standardization. It’s based on recent legislation applicable to the child welfare and TANF programs funded under titles IV-B and IV-A of the Social Security Act. The new law requires the Office of Management and Budget and ACF, in collaboration with states, to set up a working group to define a standard way for all states to exchange the data they report to their federal programs. HR 4282, introduced by U.S. Representative Rick Berg on March 28, 2012, would extend data exchange standardization requirements to the child support program funded under title IV-D.
In the child support world, we know the benefits of interoperable systems—and we know we will not get there overnight. Systems interoperability is a long-term vision that will take a generation to achieve. But the technology is here to begin to integrate health and human services systems. Linking them will accomplish two goals: improve client outcomes and enhance operational efficiency.
Imagine a common case intake module shared by the health programs and human services programs, including child support—an intake module that could make sure families receive the services they need. Now, imagine an integrated data warehouse where client information is gathered across all of the different health and human service programs. Using data analytics, we could understand what services a client uses, when and why, and predict the action needed next to achieve the positive outcomes we want for the families who seek our services.
With interoperable systems, we may do a better job of serving the whole person and the whole family; we may more effectively share services, streamline information and business systems, and minimize duplicative costs to build, maintain and update redundant computer systems.
Look for more news on the Interoperability Initiative in the Child Support Report soon. We’re just getting started, and despite the challenge of budget pressures and doing more with less, we could not let this opportunity pass by to change the landscape of health and human services.
Through increased integration, collaboration and information-sharing across health and human services programs, ACF hopes to improve the lives of America’s children and families and provide real value to the public.
The child support program has a deep culture of innovation and investment in technology. Technology makes it possible to locate parents and enforce support for 17.5 million children. Technology also can help us identify effective enforcement strategies, intervene early when payments fall off, and support excellent customer service at every point of contact with our program.
The January 2012 Child Support Report highlights two of the ways that technology is improving our case management and customer service, through early-intervention “alerts” in Colorado and electronic document management in West Virginia.
We need technology to help us:
- Locate income and assets for the 75 percent of our caseload that does not need hands-on service intervention.
- Identify the 25 percent of parents who lack steady employment and analyze service needs. Technology can help us conduct case analysis, segment our caseload, use data analytics, and track performance data at the caseworker, manager and executive levels. We don’t need to impute income on a routine basis anymore. We can develop income profiles of our noncustodial parents. No case should be going to court on a contempt motion without an analysis of the real financial situation of the noncustodial parent.
- Improve customer service for a new generation of parents, many of whom grew up without a parent, have diverse ethnic backgrounds, and get their information through technology. We can expand interactive websites and voice response systems. We can use cell phone texts and email alerts to parents. We can make applications for services available online for our program and other programs, and link parents to benefit calculators and program navigators. We can develop apps, such as text4baby.
- Develop online staff training and online resource libraries.
- Tell our story differently through the electronic face of our program—not only to each other, but to specific groups of stakeholders, community organizations and the public—through customer-friendly websites, short videos of real parents describing their experiences, and useful online resources.
A final note: According to the USDA Expenditures on Children by Families report, the costs of child-rearing vary considerably by household income level and age of the child. The Cost of Raising a Child Calculator can estimate how much it will annually cost to raise a child. This may help your agency work with parents to plan better for overall expenses. Asset-building strategies like those in Texas (see the Child Support Report) present ways we can encourage both parents to manage their money so they are better able to support their children and improve their own situations.
Please submit a comment on this blog with a way that we might use technology as we head into a new year filled with great potential for our program.