Flexibilities for State and Tribal Child Support Agencies during COVID-19 Pandemic
DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTER
DATE: May 28, 2020
TO: State and Tribal IV-D Agencies
SUBJECT: Flexibilities for State and Tribal Child Support Agencies during COVID-19 Pandemic
We are facing a national public health and economic emergency of unprecedented proportions. The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) recognizes that, in many areas, child support services have been severely disrupted. Parents may temporarily be unable to physically come to offices for intake or genetic testing. Agency staff may be working from home and courts in many jurisdictions have suspended certain civil proceedings. OCSE is committed to providing states and tribes the flexibility that allows them to help ensure the safety of their staff and the public, while continuing to provide services to families within the child support program.
Due to the exceptional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President has declared a nationwide emergency under section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. § 5191 (the “Stafford Act”), and has approved requests for major disaster declarations for all states, the District of Columbia, territories and many tribes (see FEMA list). Section 301 of the Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. § 5141, provides that “Any Federal agency charged with the administration of a Federal assistance program may, if so requested by the applicant State [or Indian tribal government] or local authorities, modify or waive, for a major disaster, such administrative conditions for assistance as would otherwise prevent the giving of assistance under such programs if the inability to meet such conditions is a result of the major disaster.”
Despite significant challenges, state and tribal child support agencies have continued to provide critical child support services to families during the pandemic. However, due to limited operational capacity as a result of the national emergency and social distancing requirements, OCSE has received numerous requests from state and tribal child support agencies for flexibilities in meeting certain administrative requirements.
In accordance with the Stafford Act, OCSE has made a determination that it is appropriate to modify, but not waive, specific timeframes for certain child support services. The attached examples show potential timeframe modifications providing flexibility for program operations that states or tribes may want to request due to the impact of the pandemic. See the attachment: Modifications of Timeframes in Title IV-D of the Social Security Act and 45 CFR 301-310. OCSE recognizes that specific states and tribes may need flexibilities in addition to the modified timeframes listed in the attachment.
Any extended timeframes are (1) temporary and (2) an outer limit providing flexibility to programs during the pandemic, which may or may not be necessary in all cases. States and tribes are in the best position to determine what is needed in specific cases. OCSE strongly encourages IV-D agencies to utilize this temporary flexibility judiciously and only where needed based on health, safety, and/or operational needs.
A state or tribal child support agency may request flexibility to program timeframes in the attachment as well as to other program timeframes by making a request to OCSE via email to their respective Regional Program Manager. The request from the state or tribal child support director must identify the specific timeframe(s) needing modification or waiver (including the statutory or regulatory citations), a short description/rationale justifying the need for the modification or waiver of the timeframe based on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on program operations, and the desired revised timeframe. OCSE will expedite the review process for these requests and the Regional Program Manager will respond to the state or tribal child support director via email with a decision.
Effective Period for the Granting of Stafford Act Modifications of Timeframes in Title IV-D of the Social Security Act: These Stafford Act timeframe modifications are effective from January 20, 2020, or from the beginning of the major disaster incident period in the state or tribe, if different. The period will end in each state and tribe no later than when the major disaster declaration ends.
OCSE is closely monitoring the pandemic’s effect on state and tribal child support operations and, if appropriate, may make modifications to approved timeframes, revoke the modifications, or revise the effective period for Stafford Act modifications, as circumstances change. If OCSE does revoke the flexibilities, states and tribes must adhere to the applicable requirements under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act and 45 CFR 301-310.
OCSE is aware that state and tribal child support agencies may need flexibility regarding program requirements other than timeframes, including for the OCSE audit process, due to the impact of the pandemic on program operations. Child support agencies may submit such requests through their Regional Program Manager, according to the process described above. Child support agencies should also review the OCSE COVID-19 FAQs and ACF guidance on grant flexibilities in conducting human services activities related to or affected by COVID-19 (IM-ACF-OA-2020-01).
During this unprecedented national emergency, OCSE is grateful for the extraordinary efforts by child support staff nationwide to serve families and children in need.
INQUIRIES: ACF/OCSE Regional Program Managers
Scott M. Lekan
Office of Child Support Enforcement
Regulations issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under the Stafford Act at 44 CFR 206.2(a)(16), define the term “local government” to include Indian tribe, authorized tribal organization, or Alaska Native village or organization.