July 2021 Child Support Report

COMMISSIONER'S VOICE: Grants to Prepare Youth for Parenthood

Linda Boyer, Acting Commissioner, OCSE

In 1994, President Clinton signed a resolution establishing the fourth Sunday of July as National Parents’ Day. This holiday is designed to celebrate parents and promote responsible parenting.

In the spirit of honoring the important role of parents, OCSE is proud to award $10.9 million to 11 state and tribal child support agencies to develop programs that educate teens and young adults about the financial, legal, and emotional responsibilities of parenthood. The agencies will integrate child support and responsible parenting education into a variety of youth-centered systems by collaborating with:

  • Youth job development programs
  • Foster care transition services
  • Juvenile justice agencies
  • Teen pregnancy prevention programs
  • Community colleges
  • Public schools

Activities funded by this grant will also help youth who are already parents access the legal and financial resources needed to successfully raise their children. These efforts build on child support education strategies designed to establish healthy relationship skills, teach parenting skills, reduce unplanned pregnancies, prevent relationship violence, and enhance life skills.

Continuing OCSE’s efforts to support parents

This second group of grantees will join the eight programs who received their awards in 2020 for a three-year term. Like the first group, grantees will spend the first year refining the program design, evaluation plans, and curricula; formalizing collaborative partnerships with public and private agencies serving teens and young adults; and pilot testing. The second and third years will be devoted to implementing, tracking, evaluating, and refining program activities. The new grantees will also participate in peer learning activities to learn from the first group of awardees.

Stay tuned for future articles that will share assessments of these grant activities and describe effective strategies for child support education and outreach. You can find the latest OCSE grant news on our website.

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Reduce Your Real Estate Footprint and Maximize Savings

Heather Noble, IV-D Director, Arizona Division of Child Support Services

Example of new "business center" desks.

Within just a few weeks of Arizona’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, 95% of the Division of Child Support Services was working from home. Our offices kept a limited number of staff onsite to support clients who may not have had access to phones or internet and encouraged others to use our virtual services.

These changes not only kept customers and staff safe, but also offered what many customers wanted. Arizona is a large state, and for some clients, getting to one of our offices has always been a challenge, despite our program operating 22 offices throughout 15 counties. With a client-centered focus, we started looking at how to expand virtual services and shrink our real estate footprint. We considered closing offices in low-demand areas and looked at where to reduce space, relocate, or renew leases. The changes we implemented are projected to have an annualized cost savings of $6 million in just a year and a half.

Tips for consolidating office space

  • Ensure it is an office priority. Before undertaking a project like this, make sure you have buy-in from leadership and employees. Understand that every office will be slightly different based on staff needs, responsibilities, and staffing structure. The key for leadership is to remain flexible while embracing this new work model.
     
  • Be in it for the long haul. Changing your entire real estate footprint can’t happen overnight. We approached this in alignment with the current lease schedule through FY 2030. We assess our needs lease by lease.

  • Consider a cooperative approach with your office neighbors. Don’t go at it alone. Coordinate with divisions or departments that share your space through a master plan produced by your Office of Facilities. Our office is co-located with our Attorney General’s Office staff and our umbrella agency partners. We do not have any stand-alone sites.
     
  • Do the math. When considering lease expirations, reductions, and modifications, ask yourself if the juice is worth the squeeze. Cost savings, cost avoidance, employee engagement, and more should be factored into your decision. The changes we made could have an annualized cost savings of $6 million after the first 18 months and $8 million after 30 months.
     
  • Modernize the space. Thoughtfully consider what a new space should look like and what options exist. Engage staff and get their ideas. We landed on a “business center” concept, where staff can reserve individual workstations for the days they will be onsite and share common amenities like conference rooms, printers, and fax machines.

What’s next?

Over the last year, we consolidated two of our largest administrative offices and completely transformed one of our largest public-facing offices. You can see one of the transformations in the figures below. Over the next two years, we will be reviewing six more leases and determining next steps for those offices. We also plan to continue modernizing our workforce with the tools, equipment, and supports they need to do their work, while also bringing more services online for clients.

Before: 34,990 square feet with an annual cost of $634,721.
After: 2,133 square feet with an annual cost of $36,820.

To learn more about Arizona’s space consolidation, contact Lindsay Sumner at lsumner@azdes.gov.

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OCSE Access and Visitation Grant Supports Virtual Mediation in Missouri

The Justice in Government Project, American University School of Public Affairs
Karen A. Lash, Director; Karlee Naylon, Research Fellow; Anna deDufour, Research Associate

Each year, OCSE awards about $10 million in mandatory grant funding to states and territories to operate the Access and Visitation Program, which helps increase noncustodial parents’ access to and time with their children. States are permitted to use grant funds to develop programs and provide services such as mediation, developing parenting plans, education, counseling, visitation enforcement, and developing guidelines for visitation and alternative custody arrangements. Missouri has used this grant to support virtual mediation that meets parents where they are.

Mediation Achieving Results for Children (MARCH) is a Missouri nonprofit created in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Social Services and Family Support Division. MARCH provides parent mediation services to resolve disputes, including child support and parenting time. On average, its statewide network of mediators completes about 56 mediations per month. Half of these are provided at no cost to eligible IV-D cases, and the other half are fee-for-service mediations.

Virtual mediation became available to clients in March 2020 to prevent COVID-19 transmission. Last year, our team conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of virtual mediation as a supplement to in-person and phone formats for parents in 32 cases. Through 65 post-mediation surveys and 16 interviews with parents and mediators, we assessed quality, accessibility, engagement, outcomes, and satisfaction across the three modes of communication.

Key findings include:

  • 50% of in-person and virtual mediations resulted in an agreement. However, 31% of in-person mediations ended in no agreement, compared to 10% of virtual.
     
  • 73% of mediators reported they were “very likely” to use a virtual communication platform for future mediations.
     
  • Parents most frequently reported ease of communication as a mediation benefit, regardless of communication mode. Other benefits included nonverbal communication during in-person mediation, decreased tension for virtual mediation, and safety for phone mediation.
     
  • Parents who selected video and phone mediation noted convenience and safety as the primary reasons for their choice. Parents primarily chose in-person mediation due to personal preference and the content of the discussion.
     
  • Parents’ belief that they could resolve conflict improved across all forms of mediation but was greatest among phone and virtual modes. On average, their satisfaction was the same across all three formats.

"This study shows how integrating technology and innovative methods can advance the field of mediation, help parents and families, and improve the administration of justice. It confirms that MARCH mediators will continue to offer [online dispute resolution] alongside traditional modes of mediation well beyond the pandemic."

- Dawn E. Kuhlman, MARCH Executive Director

This study’s small sample size prevents it from being generalized, but it offers useful insights about choice and virtual mediation. Missouri parents were able to choose a convenient mediation format that helped support parenting agreements, case outcomes, accountability between parties, and court efficiency.

For general information about Access and Visitation Grants, contact OCSE project officer Michael Hayes at michael.hayes@acf.hhs.gov.

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Wage Withholding: Child Support vs. Other Garnishments

Vicki M. Lambert, CPP, Founder and President, The Payroll Advisor

One of the more complicated areas of garnishment compliance is prioritizing more than one type of garnishment for an employee. The priority depends on garnishment type and the date received.

Prioritizing garnishments

In the hierarchy of garnishments, child support must always be withheld before the following voluntary and involuntary deductions:

  • Assignment of wages
  • Non-tax federal debt
  • Local taxes
  • Creditor garnishments

The only exception to the hierarchy is if a federal tax levy was received prior to date of the child support order. Be careful of terminology here. The priority order is based on the date of the child support ordernot the date on the Income Withholding for Support Order (IWO). When an employer does not know the date of an original child support order, they should contact the child support agency to inform them that a federal tax levy was received prior to the IWO. The employer also should inform the Internal Revenue Service that an IWO was received. The IRS may release its priority in favor of the child support order.

Limits on garnishments

The priority order of creditor garnishments is even more complicated in relationship to child support withholding. The Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) establishes a limit on creditor garnishments (those not for support, bankruptcy, or any state or federal taxes). According to a U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet Visit disclaimer page , the weekly amount may not exceed the lesser of two figures:

  • 25% of the employee’s disposable earnings
  • The difference between an employee’s disposable earnings and 30 times the federal minimum wage ($7.25 x 30 = $217.50)

Also, the CCPA limits on child support range between 50% and 65% of disposable earnings depending on the employee’s situation (supporting other children). When considering creditor garnishment limits, employers must include the percentage of earnings associated with child support.

Garnishment examples

If an employee has $700 in disposable earnings per pay period, $175 is the maximum that could be deducted for a creditor garnishment ($700 x 25% = $175 is less than $700 - $217.50 = $482.50). If the employer receives an IWO for $180, the child support order would supersede the creditor garnishment. And because the child support amount exceeds the maximum creditor garnishment amount ($180 vs. $175), nothing can be withheld for the creditor. As a best practice, the employer should notify the creditor that they were unable to withhold for their garnishment due to a higher priority order.

Changing a few facts in the example: if the employee’s child support amount is $140 per pay period and disposable earnings are $1,000, the maximum creditor garnishment amount would be $250 ($1000 x 25% = $250 is less than $1000 - $217.50 = $782.50). The employer would withhold the child support first, which equals 14% of the disposable earnings, and $110 can be withheld for the creditor garnishment.

Prioritizing IWOs and other garnishments is critical for compliance. We recommend that employers test their wage garnishment systems to ensure orders are prioritized correctly.

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Virginia Program Honored for COVID Response

Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement

When the pandemic hit last year, child support programs nationwide were suddenly confronted with how to safely continue providing services to families. Alana Tucker, Director of Program Operations, started working on several innovations in response to the COVID emergency.

Our program quickly enabled customer service representatives to take thousands of calls safely from home and immediately restricted its in-person availability. This uninterrupted service allowed hundreds of newly unemployed parents with child support orders to receive a prompt review and adjustment. We also implemented other helpful service delivery changes that included:

  • Accelerated review and adjustment of child support payment amounts
  • Two-way text messaging with customers
  • Customer portal expansion for uploading and retrieving documents
  • Centralized mail processing
  • Digital public awareness and education campaigns
  • Public website expansion and updates
  • Internal communication campaigns to increase transparency with employees
  • “New Normal” workplace safety workgroup

Champion of Change Award

The annual Governor’s Honor Awards ceremony celebrates the highest levels of outstanding work occurring at Virginia state agencies. This work significantly advances the Commonwealth’s strategic goals, mission, and overall administrative excellence. We are extremely proud that Alana Tucker received the 2020 “Champion of Change” award. This category recognizes employees who advocate, promote, and institute a change that aligns with the agency’s vision and motivates employees towards elevating organizational performance.

We are grateful for Alana’s visionary leadership and the hard work of all Virginia child support professionals who helped families during this challenging time.

To learn more about Virginia’s COVID-19 response, contact Barbara.Lacina@dss.virginia.gov.

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Resource Alert: Ensure Families Know About the Child Tax Credit

Help spread the word about the child tax credit. This year, most families will receive a monthly payment of $250 - $300 per child starting on July 15. Families who are not automatically enrolled because they didn't have to file taxes last year can sign up using this online tool Visit disclaimer page . Learn more at ChildTaxCredit.gov Visit disclaimer page .

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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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