Executive Summary



The State of Alaska Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) received a grant in 1997 from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to develop and test a more efficient method of reviewing and adjusting child support award amounts. Prior to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, States were required to review, and adjust when appropriate, child support orders in public assistance cases at least once every three years. States were also required to notify parties of non-public assistance cases of their right to review at least once every three years and conduct the review at the request of at least one of the parties. Many states found this requirement consumed an ordinate amount of staff resources, cumbersome and not that productive. Few reviews resulted in modifications.,

PRWORA allows states more flexibility in the methods that can be used to keep child support awards in stride with changes in noncustodial parent's income or child-rearing , costs. Specifically, PRWORA allows State to use:

Few states have exercised these options. No state- until Alaska did so under this grant-developed the capacity to fully automate the review and adjustment process.

Project Objectives

CSED was particularly interested in developing an automated tool that could use income information from automated sources such as the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) which contains quarterly wage data from all States and many Federal government databases. This would allow CSED to capture information about income noncustodial parents earn in Alaska and other states. Some of Alaska's largest industries (e.g., seafood processing; construction; retail trade; and, hotel and lodging) only employ labor seasonally. As a consequence, many CSED cases involve noncustodial parents that work part of the year in Alaska and the remainder of the year in another State.




A summary of previous studies suggests the proportion of reviewed cases resulting in modifications was five to 14 percent. (Karen N. Gardiner, Michael E. Fishman and John Tapogna, "Automated Cost-of-Living Adjustments of Child Support Orders in Three States, Final Report," Report to the Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and Office of Child Support Enforcement, The Lewin Group, April 16, 2001).

Alaska's Electronic Modification (ELMO) Process

CSED developed and tested an automated system called Electronic Modification- also called ELMO for short- that uses income information from sources linked electronically to CSED's automated child support system to review child support orders. ELMO reviews all current child support order amounts annually. Each month it cycles through all orders established in prior years of the same month. After it conducts a pre-screening of basic case eligibility, ELMO then searches for income information from automated sources. If it finds income information for four consecutive quarters, it conducts a guidelines calculation. In turn, if that calculation results in at least a 15 percent difference in the existing order amount (which is the threshold specified in the Alaska Child Support Guidelines), ELMO targets that order for a manual review. The direction of the proposed adjustment may be upward or downward.

Automation Capacity of ELMO

ELMO was developed with the automated capacity to not only target cases for review but automatically issue a modified child support order if appropriate and no requests for a full manual review were made. In piloting this feature, however, some parents in non-public assistance cases complained that they did not want to pursue modification even if it was warranted because they did not want to "rock the boat" with the other parent.

As a consequence, the operation of ELMO was scaled down to a tool for targeting cases for review. ELMO conducts its review using income information from automated sources and generates a report of its finding. A caseworker manually reviews all cases ELMO targets for modification. The caseworker verifies that Alaska has the controlling order and meets other review criteria.9If this is verified, the benefiting party is first notified to determine whether they would like to continue with the review. In public assistance cases where ELMO has indicated an upward modification, the review always continues since the benefiting party assigns his or her current support rights to the State.

Development of ELMO

The development of ELMO was not easy. It required consideration of many intricate details and several possibilities. The system design requirements were identified through examination of several likely review and modification scenarios. Scenarios varied by whether income information was provided as required, whether any party appealed and several other conditions. The numbers of scenarios multiplied quickly because Alaska has both an administrative and judicial process for establishing and modifying child support obligations. The steps in the administrative and judicial process vary.

The system design and programming of ELMO were also complex and encountered many obstacles. When ELMO was being developed, the labor market for computer programmers in Alaska was tight so the project was delayed for several months while searching for computer programmers. Another obstacle was that other automated system requirements took priority over the development of ELMO. During the development of ELMO, Alaska's automated system was Federally certified and brought up to Y2K compliance. In all, it took about 18 months from when the system design requirements were identified to when ELMO was piloted and migrated to CSED's automated system

Project Results

ELMO went on-line on April 15, 2000. It reviewed about 37,000 child support orders in its first year of operations. In effect, ELMO reviewed the majority of CSED's caseload, which comprises 47,000 cases. In May 2001, ELMO began its second round of reviews.

More specific project results are highlighted below.

The overall goal of this project was to streamline the review and adjustment process by taking advantage of automated income information available to CSED. Alaska has successfully met this goal. It has developed a process that has reduced staffing needs and help keep child support award amounts commensurate to the noncustodial parent's ability to pay. In all, it has made child support a more efficient and just process in Alaska.