April 2021 Child Support Report

COMMISSIONER'S VOICE: Financial Literacy Helps Families Thrive

Linda Boyer, Acting Commissioner, OCSE

April is National Financial Literacy Month, a time every year to highlight the importance of teaching money management and encouraging financial stability for all Americans. 

Did you know that the Financial Educators Council reports…

  • More than 77 million Americans do not pay their bills on time
  • 39% carry credit card debt from month to month
  • 41% of Americans do not have a savings account 

Statistics suggest that the child support program serves many of these Americans. According to the National Council of State Legislators, the child support program serves one-third Visit disclaimer page of all U.S. children living in poverty. Child support is among the top income support programs, and state and tribal child support programs provide services that not only help improve the economic outlook for families, but also demonstrate the benefits of financial stability to families.

One recent effort in this area is our Families Forward Demonstration, a four-year project testing how smaller programs can help noncustodial parents find better jobs through skills training. One of the core components of this program is capacity-building services to help parents better manage their money. We know these crucial financial literacy skills can help lift families out of poverty and set them up for success.

Financial literacy resources

Throughout April, nationwide financial literacy events will promote good financial habits among Americans, including how to manage a budget, make good spending and saving decisions, and grow wealth. These skills aren’t the only answer to combat poverty, but they can help parents become good stewards over their personal finances and help improve poor financial habits. For information and events about how to improve financial well-being, visit the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau Visit disclaimer page and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (PDF) Visit disclaimer page .

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Oklahoma’s Curbside Genetic Testing Enhances Customer Safety

Victoria Harrison, Assistant Director of Child Support Services, Oklahoma Department of Human Services

On March 11, 2020, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz basketball teams were ready to play in front of a packed arena. Within seconds of tip off, the announcer asked everyone to leave the venue immediately. Oklahoma’s reckoning with COVID-19 had begun — along with much of the nation.

Almost overnight, we became acutely aware that adjustments had to be made to protect our customers and our team from the virus. One of these changes included a pause in genetic testing. Before COVID-19, our certified staff performed buccal swabs in their offices, but this practice was no longer safe for our customers or staff. As soon as we hit “pause,” we started working on a way to be able to hit “play” again.   

Challenges to standing up program

Like many service providers and businesses, we embarked on developing a statewide curbside service delivery model for genetic testing. In theory, the concept was simple: the customer uses an automated system to schedule an appointment, drives to a designated curbside area, gets swabbed, and drives away. However, the devil is in the details, and there were several challenges to standing up this curbside program:

  • Hire personnel to conduct testing
  • Train child support staff on the new curbside process and procedures
  • Develop customer messaging
  • Create curbside signage that was light enough to be portable but sturdy enough to stand up to the Oklahoma wind
  • Learn how best to safely take photos of the customer who is being tested inside of a car
  • Develop partnerships for locations near customers across the state

Coordinating with child welfare

Another big lift was coordinating this new process with child welfare, but this coordination also gave us an opportunity to grow our working relationship. It has long been our practice to do genetic testing for our child welfare partners, something we call “courtesy draws.” Child welfare staff knew which days a collector would be at the child support office, and they would send customers over for genetic testing. That was clearly no longer possible after the pandemic hit. We collaborated with child welfare leadership and staff to develop and streamline our new curbside process. A key advancement was removing the need for a child support worker to facilitate testing. Child welfare staff are now able to directly schedule testing for families.   

Continuously improving service delivery

Within weeks of mapping out the new program, our partner at LabCorp was hiring collection staff to work at designated parking lots throughout the state. Training and communicating expectations with new staff was difficult, especially virtually. Some staff found the job to be too challenging and failed to show up on collection days, leaving us with a parking lot full of unserved customers. Through months of regular conversations with LabCorp about what quality service looks like in this posture, we are making progress at better serving our customers.     

While challenges continue to ariselike battling the Oklahoma windwe know we have done our best to keep our employees, customers, and communities safe and well served. 

To learn more about Oklahoma’s curbside genetic testing program, contact Victoria Harrison at Victoria.Harrison@okdhs.org or 405-833-4332.  

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Addressing Health Disparities through Collaboration and Best Practices

Rochelle Phillips, OCSE Program Specialist, Region 1

Child support and housing — an infographic from

All Americans have been affected by the COVID-19 health crisis, but Native American, Black, Hispanic and Asian communities have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.” This is a sobering truth. The pandemic not only exposed disparities in access to technology and health care, but also inequities in education, housing, and transportation. These harsh realities must inform policies and practices aimed at eliminating disparities in service delivery and continuity of operation plans.

Learning from best practices

The Administration for Children and Families recently published a report (PDF) produced by the Office of Regional Operations in Boston about lessons learned in New England during the pandemic. It highlights key innovative practices in service delivery, barrier-breaking cross-sector collaborations, and data-driven analytics designed to identify and correct racial disparities. Each of the six New England states were intentional about addressing and mitigating obstacles faced by vulnerable populations, including those associated with race. Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island used social determinants of health as a basis for changing practices and policies to meet the immediate needs of children and families. As a child support community, we must also study best practices in collaboration learned during COVID-19.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation conducts policy research, analysis, evaluation, and coordination on various issues across the Department of Health and Human Services, including poverty, vulnerable populations, family strengthening, and economic support for families. They recently published this brief (PDF) Visit disclaimer page and infographic (PDF) Visit disclaimer page that identifies areas for child support agencies, public housing agencies, and other partners to further consider to address the needs of noncustodial parents and other populations.

Learning best practices and advocating for policies that improve social determinants of health will help ensure equity across a broad spectrum of populations.

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Which Part of a Digital Ad Matters Most?

Eric Durnil, Business Initiatives Director, Indiana Child Support Bureau

Throughout the implementation of Indiana’s digital marketing grant, we focused on how small changes could have a big impact in bringing people into the child support program. In a previous article, we shared how the word “apply” and the terms IV-D, CSB, DCS, and Prosecutor can deter people from enrolling and engaging in child support services. This article focuses on what we learned when we researched and launched digital ads. 

Digital ads are increasingly common as more people spend time on the internet and phone apps, but what makes one ad more “clickable” than another?  To answer this question, we broke down our digital ads into five components: Tagline, Image, Message, Agency Reference, and Call to Action.

Creating the digital ads

Our team created 31 ads, each with a slight variation to one of these ad components. The ads ran for 62 days from June 15 through Aug. 15, 2020, in five geographically, economically, and socially different counties in Indiana (Allen, Clay, Greene, Owen, and Putnam). The ads targeted parents ages 18 to 54, a potential population of just over 450,000 people.

By changing only one component of an ad, we wanted to determine which of the five components statistically outperformed the others. Our digital advertising research indicated that a good image was likely most important to catch the attention of parents; we thought so too, but we were wrong.

Winning ad component

Overall, the digital marketing campaign generated over 24 million impressions (ad displays) and resulted in more than 25,000 clicks across the five counties. During the two months of the intervention, these five counties saw a combined 9.7% increase in their new child support enrollments from the prior year, whereas the rest of the state saw a combined decrease of 26.6% during the same period. This seemed to indicate that digital ads work, but we also wondered which component influenced participants most.

In our experiment, the tagline seemed to be the only component of a digital ad that mattered, and, more specifically, the tagline “Money cannot buy love, but it can provide comfort” resonated best with our digital audience. We believe this is because “comfort” is a positive emotional word, whereas, some of the other tagline words could be perceived as positive or negative, depending on a person’s situation.

Informing future ads

We all know that taglines can make for successful business ad campaigns—consider Nike’s “Just Do It”; California Milk Processor Board’s “Got Milk?” or Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” We believe this digital marketing campaign demonstrates taglines are important for government agencies, too. Our results showed that the word “comfort” in the tagline resonated best with audiences, and future ads should be developed to associate child support with this emotion. Furthermore, the results show that digital marketing works for increasing awareness of and participation in the child support program.  

OCSE awarded $2.2 million to 14 grantees through a two-year demonstration called Using Digital Marketing to Increase Participation in the Child Support Program. This article continues our series featuring grantees testing approaches and analyzing data to see if digital marketing can help child support programs reach and serve families more effectively. For general information, contact OCSE project officers Michelle Jadczak at Michelle.Jadczak@acf.hhs.gov or Melody Morales at Melody.Morales@acf.hhs.gov.

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Jobs That Help Incarcerated Parents Support Their Children

Tom Killmurray, OCSE Program Specialist, Region 1

One of the biggest shifts in the child support program in recent years is the effort to help incarcerated parents reduce their monthly child support amount. Incarcerated parents are often unable to earn enough to support their families while in prison, making these temporary changes appropriate. Many correctional institutions offer jobs within the prison to occupy inmates, give them skills they can use upon reentry, and offset the costs of incarceration to the state, but this work does not pay much. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the average wage for these working prisoners is $0.86/hour.

Certificate program enhances wages for inmates

There is a largely unknown exception to the typical low-wage prison jobs: the Prison Industry Enhancement Certificate Program (PIECP, PIE for short) enacted by Congress in 1979. After decades of banning prison industry products from interstate commerce, a PIE certificate allows a prison industry to sell its products across state lines. With a limit of 50 certificates nationwide, prison industries must meet the law’s criteria of voluntary labor, worker safety standards, and wages equal to similar work in the local private sector to receive a PIE certificate. The program involves 5,000 inmates nationwide. PIE wages are at least $7.25/hour — the federal minimum wage.

PIE also makes deductions from inmate wages for victim restitution, taxes, room and board (in some states), and family support; what constitutes family support is up to the prison industry’s discretion, but it almost always includes court-ordered child support. Under PIE, inmates can have up to 80% of wages deducted (the normal wage withholding limit of the Consumer Credit Protection Act doesn’t apply). Further, some money is also saved in accounts for the inmate’s eventual reentry.  

Photo credit: Minnesota Department of Corrections
industry program

Minnesota’s PIE program

Minnesota’s prison industry operates several sites meeting PIE standards. Minnesota is a state that deducts child support from inmate wages at PIE sites. To do this, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections cross reference data on child support obligations and the prison population. A child support liaison is located at the state prison where all new inmates are processed, and both departments share the costs of the position. This partnership, along with offender education on child support, allows county child support workers to enter child support orders for inmates working PIE jobs.    

Minnesota’s PIE sites successfully deducted over $640,000 in child support in CY 2019 (and over $7 million since 1985). Their sites manufacture party balloons, wood and plastic products, and lights, and they pay an average wage of $10.97/hour.

While the vast majority of Minnesota’s incarcerated parents with child support orders will get their order reduced to zero, child support workers can establish an appropriate order for PIE inmates earning higher wages. “I have done classes for incarcerated fathers in these jobs,” says Child Support Liaison Lori Lofrano. “The pride that they feel when they’re able to get an order and know that they're helping to financially support their children is really amazing.” Deductions are entered into the Offender Payroll System, and the funds are then sent electronically to the State Disbursement Unit where the child support payments are disbursed. 

Positive reentry results

PIE has been shown to have a positive impact on an individual’s reentry and post-incarceration success. A 2006 National Institute of Justice study found that PIE participants “acquire post-release jobs more quickly, retain these jobs longer, and return to the criminal justice system less frequently and at a lower rate” than other inmates. According to Minnesota’s Prison Industries Director Lisa Wojcik, “We are running a program along business lines to give inmates work skills and help reduce recidivism.” Successful reentry for incarcerated parents improves the odds of more emotional and financial support of children in the future.  

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About Child Support Report

Child Support Report is published monthly by the Office of Child Support Enforcement. We welcome articles and high-quality digital photos to consider for publication. We reserve the right to edit for style, content and length, or not accept an article. OCSE does not endorse the practices or individuals in this newsletter. You may reprint an article in its entirety (or contact the author or editor for permission to excerpt); please identify Child Support Report as the source.

JooYeun Chang
Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families

Linda Boyer
Acting Commissioner, OCSE                                                        

Crystal Peeler
Acting Director, Division of Customer Communications
Andrew Phifer
Editor, CSR.Editor@acf.hhs.gov                                                       

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