Alternative Methods to Meet the Monthly Notification Requirement
DATE:November 18, 2010
TO:State Agencies Administrating Child Support Enforcement Plans under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act and Other Interested Individuals
SUBJECT:Alternative Methods to Meet the Monthly Notification Requirement
States have sent several letters to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) asking us to reexamine policy guidance first issued in 1992 that requires states to mail paper notices of assigned support collections. One state expressed concern that mailed notices impose high costs and results in a large volume of returned mail. Another state requested permission to replace mailed notices with a “cutting edge 24/7 intelligent voice response system and an interactive website that provides the information to custodial parents by more efficient means than mail.” In addition, the National Council of Child Support Directors (NCCSD) has recommended that OCSE allow states to meet the notice requirement by other technological means, such as through an internet connection and/or interactive automated voice response (AVR), arguing that mailing notices is costly and outdated.
Section 454(5) of the Social Security Act (the Act) and 45 CFR 302.54 require states to provide parents with monthly notice of assigned support collections. However, there is no requirement in the statute or rule to mail paper notices. The rule was promulgated almost 20 years ago. Since then, technology has transformed the way people obtain and provide information. Web look-ups, emails, text messaging, programmed phone calls, and voice response systems all provide access to information in a way that was unimaginable two decades ago. Such advances in technology impact policy over time.
We have given this notice requirement careful consideration, and have concluded that we should defer to states to determine the most effective and efficient means to meet the notice requirement in section 454(5) of the Act and 45 CFR 302.54. This Action Transmittal recognizes that a state may elect alternate, e.g. electronic, means to provide monthly notice to custodial parents of assigned collections if it determines that electronic notice will be effective and efficient.
However, state child support agencies continue to have an obligation to assure that parents are receiving information about assigned collections in a timely and convenient manner. One of the basic responsibilities of a child support agency is to provide timely, accurate, and understandable notice to parents about their child support cases, to provide them with a means to correct inaccurate or incomplete information, and to ask questions.
While electronic notice of collections may be an appropriate, and even the preferred, method of notification for many custodial parents, it may not be an effective means to notify some parents. Many parents in the child support caseload have limited incomes. They may not have a stable home address. They may not have convenient access to a computer, the internet, or mobile communication. Rural and urban custodial parents may prefer to access information in different ways. The best notice is information provided through multiple methods.
If the state child support agency decides not to notify custodial parents by mail, the agency may use an alternate method of notification (in addition to providing access to an AVR) that the state determines is an effective means of meeting the notice requirement of section 454(5) of the Act and 45 CFR 302.54. For example, a state agency may send a monthly email or cell phone text message to custodial parents notifying them that current information is available on a website account or AVR. Or a state agency may provide annual mailed notices, while updating the web account as soon as a collection is made. Or a state agency may provide an option to custodial parents allowing them to select monthly notification by email or text message. A state agency may also decide that it is appropriate to provide electronic notice of assigned collections to both custodial and noncustodial parents.
A particularly important time to provide notice of assigned collections is at the point when a family is leaving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Providing timely, accurate, and clear information to custodial parents about the status and cumulative amount of assigned collections at the time they stop receiving TANF cash assistance can help them protect their rights to support payments under complex family distribution rules and to identify distribution errors during their transition off of TANF.
APPROVAL OF STATE PLAN
We are asking each state to notify the state’s assigned regional program specialist if it decides to adopt an alternative method to meet the monthly notification requirement. A state that decides to provide the monthly notice electronically will not require a waiver. If a state that currently has a waiver to provide quarterly mailed notice decides to continue with that option, no further action is required. The notice, whether in mailed or electronic form, must contain the information required by 45 CFR 302.54(a) (1) and (2).
RELATED REFERENCES: OCSE-AT-92-02, OCSE-AT-92-06, OCSE-AT-96-08, PIQ-92-08, and DCL-93-10.
ACTION REQUIRED: Notify the state’s assigned regional program specialist if the state plans to provide monthly notice to custodial parents by an alternative method.
INQUIRIES TO: ACF/OCSE Regional Program Managers
Office of Child Support Enforcement
cc: cc: Tribal IV-D Directors