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
Automated state child support programs:
- allow a worker to initiate a case or automatically initiate a case for families receiving
- 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
- track, monitor and report on efforts to establish paternity and support orders;
- accept and process case updates and keep the caseworker informed about due dates and
- monitor compliance with support orders and initiate enforcement actions such as wage
withholding or tax refund offset;
- bill cases, process payments and make disbursements; and
- 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
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
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
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
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.