DHHS Eagle graphic
ASL Header
Mission Nav Button Division Nav Button Grants Nav Button Testimony Nav Button Other Links Nav Button ASL Home Nav Button
US Capitol Building
HHS Home
Contact Us
dot graphic Testimony bar

This is an archive page. The links are no longer being updated.

Testimony on Child Support Enforcement Systems Penalties by John Monahan
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
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
January 29, 1998

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for providing the opportunity for me to testify today on child support enforcement systems penalties. As the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, I have worked closely with our child support enforcement staff and with staff of this Subcommittee to find a way to ensure that every state puts in place a statewide computer system to track deadbeat parents and make them pay the child support they owe. As the Secretary stated last year, we very much welcome your leadership in fashioning a bipartisan solution to this important issue.

Child support is a critical part of welfare reform and President Clinton has made improving enforcement and increasing child support collections a top priority. In FY 1997, $12.9 billion in child support was collected on behalf of the children of America. This amount represents a 63 percent increase in child support collections since FY 1992. Significant increases since FY 1992 have also occurred in the number of paying child support cases (48 percent) and in the number of paternities established (249 percent, not including the 350,000 established through in-hospital paternity establishment processes). We are proud of this Administration's record on child support enforcement but, as the President said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, we must do more. He has set a goal of increasing collections to $20 billion a year by the year 2000 through implementation of the tough new measures he called for from the start and that were ultimately enacted in the 1996 welfare reform law.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) includes requirements for license revocation, new hire reporting and use of quick enforcement techniques. However, these new rules can be implemented fully only if every state is fully automated. As requested in your invitation, my testimony will focus on automated systems compliance and the "Child Support Performance and Incentive Act of 1998", introduced by Chairman Shaw and Ranking Member Levin.

Child Support Enforcement Information System

Statewide automated enforcement systems are critical to the success of the child support program. Computerized systems are the only means to provide both prompt and reliable processing of information. With a current national caseload of 20 million, we must move forward aggressively with new technologies if we are to keep up with the massive volume of information and transactions in every State and between States.

The importance of automation has been recognized since the inception of the child support program. By the mid-1980's all child support agencies had some level of automation serving families in their States. Now, newer technologies allow us to consider ever-more advanced applications for child support information systems. With the Family Support Act of 1988, Congress acknowledged the increased importance of automation to child support and required statewide automated systems in all States by October, 1995 and later extended that deadline to October, 1997.

Automated state child support programs:

  1. allow a worker to initiate a case or automatically initiate a case for families receiving public assistance;

  2. begin locating absent parents and tracking automated searches of State databases, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, and refer hard-to-find cases to the Federal Parent Locator Service;

  3. track, monitor and report on efforts to establish paternity and support orders;

  4. accept and process case updates and keep the caseworker informed about due dates and activities;

  5. monitor compliance with support orders and initiate enforcement actions such as wage withholding or tax refund offset;

  6. bill cases, process payments and make disbursements; and

  7. maintain information for accounting, reporting and monitoring.

There are required safeguards to protect the security and privacy of this information.

Status of State System Certification

When Child Support Deputy Director David Ross testified before you in September, sixteen States were certified as having operational child support enforcement systems. As of today, thirty-eight States have informed us that they have statewide, operational child support systems that meet the functional requirements set forth in the Family Support Act of 1988. We have certified 22 of these States and are in the process of conducting reviews or writing the certification review reports for the remaining 16 States. Four reviews have already been conducted this year and 12 are scheduled in February and March. Many other systems are very close to completion.

While the focus of today's hearing is how to address State systems which have not been certified, I'd like to acknowledge the States who worked diligently to meet the October 1, 1997 deadline and succeeded. They deserve our congratulations. Meeting this certification requirement is crucial. While many States are using significant levels of automation to process child support cases as they move towards certification, a comprehensive and statewide system is a necessary foundation for new provisions to track parents across State lines and ensure they pay what they owe. It is much more efficient and economical to handle child support cases with such a system, especially in an environment where greater than 30 percent of the cases involve more than one state.

Penalty for Failure to Comply

We are all aware that the current statute carries extremely stiff penalties for failure of a State to comply with the child support enforcement State plan requirement for having a comprehensive statewide child support system. By December 31, 1997, each State had to certify to us through its State plan that it had a system meeting Family Support Act requirements. Any State without such a system in place has been notified that we intend to disapprove its State plan and informed of its appeal rights. The financial consequences for failure to meet the statutory deadline is, after appropriate due process, cessation of all Federal child support enforcement funding. It a State is not operating a child support enforcement program under an approved State plan, its TANF funds also would be in jeopardy.

The statute provides the Secretary no latitude on this issue. Accordingly, we have issued letters to 16 States providing notice of our intent to disapprove their child support enforcement state plans.

This is clearly not a situation anyone favors -- eliminating all Federal child support funds would unfairly penalize children who rely on the State's CSE program. At the same time, however, because a State's failure to automate fully is unacceptable and has repercussions which reach beyond its own borders, it is essential that States which have not complied be held accountable. Moreover, this deadline has been extended by two years already.

We believe the proposal in the bill under discussion incorporates this need for balance. The proposal creates an additional penalty that the Secretary may impose in lieu of the full sanction, in the case of a State that has made a good faith effort to meet the automation requirements and that enters into an approved corrective compliance plan for completion of its system.

Such States would be subject to an automatic penalty equal to four percent of their Federal reimbursement for FY 1997 administrative costs. The penalty would grow annually up to a maximum of 20 percent of Federal IV-D funding for failure to have a certified system. These automatic and escalating penalties will give States a strong incentive to complete their child support systems quickly and will send a clear message about the importance of automation. We believe this proposal is tough but fair.

We support adding these new penalties precisely because we know how effective statewide computer systems can help States collect even more child support for needy children. It is for the same reason that we have serious concerns with the provision of the bill that may encourage states to try inappropriately to link local computer systems instead of creating functioning statewide systems.

Where as linked systems are not fully reimbursable under current law, this proposal expands current waiver authority to permit HHS to fund all costs associated with linking multiple child support systems within a state, with certain key safeguards. The proposal requires that States with linked county systems in lieu of a statewide system have the same functionality as a statewide system and take no more time nor cost more to the Federal government to develop, operate and maintain. States would also be required to perform certain functions at the State level, like distribution, use statewide standardized data elements, forms and definitions and to ensure seamless interstate and intrastate case processing. These elements are critical, and we appreciate the Committee's efforts to include these thoughtful elements.

Experience shows, however, that meeting these elements will be difficult for most states. First, developing separate systems and linking them together represent a major technological task, more complicated then a single system. Second, for states which have missed the deadline for operating a certified system by October 1, 1997, the paramount goal now is to take whatever steps are necessary to install an effective automated system. With this new authority, some States may use precious time and resources to demonstrate that they can develop an approvable linked system, rather than move forward on a single statewide system. We are very concerned that the concept of a linked systems is unproven and thus poses an unnecessary risk of failure.

I want to be clear that if this waiver proposal is enacted, this Administration will set a rigorous standard of proof of cost neutrality and equal functionality. In order for these waivers to be cost neutral, we will interpret this provision as giving the Secretary final authority in ensuring the reasonableness of the cost estimate for a Statewide system, including estimates of baseline costs. In reviewing the states, cost estimates we will base our determination on such factors as the costs of completing other certified systems where the process has been done efficiently, and the transfer of existing systems. In addition, the burden of proof will rest with the state applicant to ensure that any waiver approved would result in a system that meets the critical demands of children for improved child support enforcement. We would be happy to continue to work with this Subcommittee to answer any questions about cost neutrality or the ability of these systems to meet child support enforcement requirements.


While we have serious reservations about the feasibility of the alternative system aspects, including the potential costs, we nonetheless appreciate the swift, open, bipartisan and balanced approach this Subcommittee has taken to examining child support compliance and penalties. We anxiously await enactment of the proposal.

On our part, we will continue to work closely with the States and provide any assistance necessary to help them in completing their implementation efforts. Last year, ACF staff provided on-site assistance to every State and territory. States have found our assistance very helpful, and we have pledged on-going assistance.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, much progress has been made in developing statewide automated child support systems. Continuing automation efforts are critical to future success in providing support to America's children. We must hold States accountable to ensure our over-arching goal of building the Nation's strongest child support program ever. The child support systems penalty approach in your bill supports that goal.

I would be happy to answer any questions.

Privacy Notice (www.hhs.gov/Privacy.html) | FOIA (www.hhs.gov/foia/) | What's New (www.hhs.gov/about/index.html#topiclist) | FAQs (answers.hhs.gov) | Reading Room (www.hhs.gov/read/) | Site Info (www.hhs.gov/SiteMap.html)