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Testimony on Child Support Enforcement Provisions by David Gray Ross
Deputy Director, Office of Child Support Enforcement
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources
September 19, 1996

Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. As the Deputy Director of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, I am pleased to appear before you today to talk about the child support enforcement provisions in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Child support is a critical component in ensuring economic security for millions of single-parent families and I appreciate this Committee's efforts to strengthen the program by including the child support enforcement measures President Clinton proposed two years ago in this bill.

As President Clinton said when he signed the welfare reform bill, these Child Support Enforcement provisions "will help dramatically to reduce welfare, increase independence, and reinforce parental responsibility." These comprehensive reforms will ensure that parents are located to support their children, paternity is established when necessary, and child support orders are enforced. over the next 10 years, these measures could increase child support collections by $24 billion and reduce federal welfare costs by $4 billion.

Under the PRWORA,. a case registry and new hire directory will be established in every State, with a centralized case registry and national new hire database maintained at the Federal level. States will be given access to motor vehicle and law enforcement data to locate parents. Child support agencies will have legal authority to order Paternity testing and State laws must ensure that the results are admissible as evidence of paternity. Every State will be able to suspend the drivers, and professional licenses of parents who do not support their children, and the passports of non-paying parents also will be withheld.

While we have made great strides over the last several years in improving child support, it was clear that much more still needed to be done, including addressing jurisdictional issues with tribal governments and issues involving interstate and international cases. The efforts of President Clinton and the Congress in child support have begun to have a positive impact. Collections have increased 40 percent since President Clinton took office and totaled $11 billion in FY 1995. Paternities established have also increased about 40 percent to a total of 735,000 last year, including voluntary in- hospital paternity establishments under the requirements of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. The new child support provisions will offer even greater advancements.

I would like to briefly share with you what we are doing to implement our child support enforcement responsibilities under welfare reform. Then I will focus my testimony on State Child Support Enforcement (CSE) automated systems and program' incentive funding, the areas in which I understand the Committee is particularly interested.

OCSE's Welfare Reform Implementation Strategy

First, February 17, 1995, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12953, which declared that Federal agencies would be model employers and process child support wage withholding orders according to the same standards that private employers were held to, laying the foundation for related statutory changes in PRWORA. A training and outreach effort was directed at our sister agencies to familiarize them with the Executive Order and prepare them for automated matching scheduled in the near future.

We welcome the child support provisions of welfare reform and we are committed to their timely implementation. Since many of the provisions, like license revocation, new hire reporting, and bank matching, are based on successful State practices, our job is made easier. In addition, recognizing the similarity of child support provisions contained in various legislative proposals, we began to work on numerous initiatives to plan for implementation of the anticipated requirements.

In the Spring of this year, President Clinton directed that further actions be taken to lay the groundwork for welfare reform. This included a pilot of a national new hire program.

The pilot is currently underway and matches have already been made of data from 17 States against lists of non-paying parents. Over 60,000 cases have been matched and forwarded to the appropriate State. Over 30,000 of these matches were AFDC cases. We are very excited by these results, - as well as by the information we are gaining which will help guide our efforts to develop the national program required by the statute.

Many Federal-State Welfare Reform workgroups have been formed and have accomplished much preliminary planning for implementing the new law, such as a complete review of regulations, new hire reporting system design, helping States with enactment of needed legislation, and preparing the way for nationwide implementation of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.

We have also undertaken initiatives that focus on challenging areas such as enforcing child support against members of the armed forces, and in cases involving other countries and American Indian tribal jurisdictions. Staff have been assigned to assist States with interstate, international, military, criminal non-support, and Indian tribal cases. These areas are now benefitting from the focused attention and coordinating role of Federal staff. Federal staff are providing technical assistance and training, and knowledge about effective practices to States. Implementation of related provisions in the statute will be smoother as a result of these activities.

In addition, a new State and Local Assistance Division has been formed to focus Federal staff resources on helping States and local jurisdictions assess problem areas and identify resources to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness. Federal-State workgroups on training and technical assistance have been working in partnership to better match Federal resources with State needs. This division will provide planning assistance and act as a clearing-house for best practices and new techniques in child support enforcement.

State Child Support Enforcement Automated Systems

Automated systems are integral to the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's Child Support Enforcement program. Technology allows us to complete millions of transactions involving tracking, case processing and collection with speed and accuracy, freeing staff to focus on hard-to-collect cases. Automated systems are designed to allow the child support program to keep pace with increasing caseloads and limited government resources.

We have made a sizable investment in the automation of State Child Support Enforcement programs. Over the last 10 years, the Federal Government has provided states with $1 billion in enhanced funding for automated systems, representing 5 percent of total child support expenditures. This investment has already made a difference. More than 40 jurisdictions have statewide automated CSE systems that are being used in day-to-day child support operations. While only 10 of these States' systems have been "certified" as meeting all of the automation requirements called for in the Family Support Act of 1988, all are providing critical services to States.

State child support programs have been transformed by automation efforts. Many States started from ground zero, where caseworkers didn't even have access to computers or networks to link county programs throughout the State. In States with county-operated programs, there often was no standardization of child support program and policies. Prior to automation requirements, case files were often buried in dusty county courthouse basements and if someone had to work on a case, he/she had to manually retrieve the case file.

Automation efforts began in earnest from 1981 through 1988, when the Federal government provided enhanced funding for States to develop systems to improve the child support enforcement program. The Family Support Act of 1988.mandated much more complex and comprehensive automated systems. These systems needed to meet all federal requirement by October 1,1995, including incorporating all IV-D cases in the state and training all workers to use the system. Many of the problems encountered were associated with converting paper child support files to an automated format. This costly and time-consuming conversion process required file review, research, and data collection; it often involved tracking down court files and reconciling and updating financial and arrearage data. Much of the effort was in ensuring consistent and standardized child support procedures within a State.

The Family Support Act requirements have brought us to the point where child support workers have computers on their desks and cases have been converted to an electronic format. These systems provide the foundation for meeting the reforms of the new law. The additional time congress provided in the recent extension of the Family Support Act certification deadline to October 1, 1997, is allowing States to conduct critical testing, piloting, training of staff, and conversion of cases.

As I indicated, the system enhancements called for in the Personal Responsibility and work Opportunity Reconciliation Act build on the assumption that States have already completed the work of creating a computer infrastructure and the conversion of paper files to an automated database. The investment of additional enhanced funding is critical to allowing all States to move to the next level of automation, including centralized child support collections and disbursement. This will enable States to use technology more effectively, to monitor cases more efficiently, and to do proactive matching of entire caseloads for location, establishment, and collection.

In short, the next steps of automation provided in welfare reform are mass case processing and administrative enforcement remedies -- thus freeing the caseworker from handling the routine cases and allowing her/him to tackle the most difficult cases. Computer matches can be run at night against other State records, such as unemployment compensation, workers, compensation and other State benefits, as well as financial institution records and new hire data. The system will generate the matches and automatically print out the attachments or wage garnishments to be mailed in the morning. As we continue to work with States to improve their systems, we will also focus on privacy concerns associated with these types of activities.

Centralized collection and disbursement capabilities mandated in the new law will also allow States to make use of economies of scale and modern technology found in many businesses --such as high speed check processing equipment, automated mail and postal procedures, and automated billing and statement processing.

Finally, with the introduction of a potentially greater tribal role in the child support enforcement program, we are aware of the special needs of tribes related to automation. We will work closely with tribes wishing to take advantage of the new authority in their planning for automated child support enforcement systems.

I will now turn to the second issue the Committee has expressed an interest in discussing: incentive financing.

Program Incentive Funding

The PRWORA seeks to change the current system of incentive funding to States which is based on maximizing current year child support collections (especially those for welfare cases), while restraining administrative costs. There is no disagreement that the current system does not create a significant incentive for long-term investment necessary for the achievement of program goals and is in need of improvement.

Under current law, a minimum incentive payment is made to all States, regardless of whether performance is good or poor. States can run inefficient programs and still make a profit. An improved results-based incentive system, like that envisioned in the legislation, would take into account other measurable program results such as paternity establishment, order establishment, collections and cost efficiency. A better incentive system might also reward the States with the best arid most improved performance in these areas.

The PRWORA requires that we work with the States to develop a new incentive funding structure that rewards results and to submit a report to Congress by March 1, 1997. This does not allow much time, but I am happy to report on the success we have had in laying the foundation by reviewing measures that might be used in changing the incentive payment system.

As you are aware, OCSE was designated as a pilot for the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. OCSE is just finishing up the two year pilot phase of its implementation of GPRA and is reviewing with the Executive Branch the successes and problems associated with that effort. During the pilot we have been working with States to look at many issues, including;

  • A National Strategic Plan with a mission, vision, goals and objectives.

  • Some options for outcome measures for Strategic Plan goals and objectives so that progress can be tracked.

  • 35 States have entered into partnership agreements with ACF Regional Offices that detail performance goals, technical assistance initiatives, and a shared commitment to working together.

  • OCSE and the association of State child support program directors are, as I speak, drafting an outline for a partnership agreement that will emphasize communication, joint planning, and co- responsibility for improving America's child support enforcement program.

These activities have provided the building blocks to move to a more results-oriented management of the national child support enforcement program.

A Performance Measures Workgroup was formed with representatives from HHS central and Regional offices and State and local child support agencies. During the past 18 months this workgroup has met six times and drafted and redrafted proposed outcome measures, which are still under review. During drafting, the workgroup was mindful of pending welfare reform legislation and hoped its work would be useful in identifying changes to the incentive funding system.

We are now coordinating a group of State and Federal partners to develop a proposed incentive funding system for the report to Congress. We are already in agreement that some key indicators from the outcome measures developed for the Strategic Plan will be reviewed for potential use in a new incentive funding formula. I am confident that with the progress we have made together, we will be able to offer to the Congress our vision of a results-oriented incentive funding system by March 1, 1997, that does not increase incentive payment outlays, as required by the statute.

We are committed to working with our State and local partners to improve their programs and to ensure that we will witness the anticipated benefits of the new legislation.


In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, let me restate three key points:

  • Efforts to implement the child support provisions of PRWORA began long ago, with State and Federal partners working closely on a number of fronts including new hire reporting, enactment of State legislation, and regulatory reinvention.

  • The Federal investment in St-ate child support automated systems is paying off. States, are benefitting greatly and moving towards federal certification of their systems.

  • OCSE and its State partners are working to develop a new incentive funding system that will move the national child support enforcement program to results oriented management by rewarding performance.

Again, I want to thank this Committee for giving me the opportunity to testify today, and look forward to working closely with this Committee in the future as we implement these critical changes to the child support program. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.

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