N.K. Clark

July 30, 2014

State officials and agencies often make headlines when awards are given for child support enforcements and collections.  While it is true that a portion of the money is paid to the rightful owners, there is a large amount of money that never reaches the families.  Undistributed child support collections occur when the state agency receives a child support payment but can not easily identify or locate the custodial parent or return the funds to the noncustodial parent, (Office of Inspector General, OIG, 2011).  The excuse of not being unable to locate the custodial parent is much more believable than the failure to locate the noncustodial parent.  The failure of locating the noncustodial parent seems impossible especially considering that the noncustodial parent must make payments through state disbursement units or SDUs.  In fact, in order for the Illinois SDU to process a payment, the parent must supply the name, social security number (optional), FIPS/Docket number, issuing county, and the amount, (Illinois State Disbursement Unit, 2009).  The attempt to justify the inability to locate a noncustodial parent in order to claim the child support payment is a reach at best.

These agencies maintain detailed files and can successfully locate a parent when a parent’s payments are delinquent.  It cannot be assumed that those same records cannot be used to return payments to that same parent. Every state has statutes and regulations governing the handling of unclaimed and abandoned property left in its care, (OIG, 2011).  With this is mind, one of the only reasons that states could legitimately offer to justify the failure to return money to rightful owners is that every dollar sitting in an undistributed collections account that remains unclaimed belongs to the state.  This can be substantiated because many states do not even attempt to locate the owners of the child support money.  Instead, states do not follow their own laws for classifying collections as abandoned and/or transferring the collections to an abandoned property fund, (OIG, 2011).  This money is all profit to the gaining states and losses for the parents.

This money is, therefore, withheld from the parents and the children and used for other reasons as ordered by state officials.   Some states deposit unclaimed child support money into state run accounts which allow citizens to search for any missing money. Other states simply claim the money as state earned income and in addition to the budget.  According the Ways and Means Committee (2002), Michigan had deposited $1.5 million to the state general fund account for the past two years.  Unless Michigan has changed its policies since the report was issued, the $13,669,019 of undistributed child support collected in 2013 was deposited into that same general fund account.  Even though federal law requires that states do an annual self-assessment the distribution section does not require reports on undistributed funds, (Ways and Means Committee, 2002).  This means that the states police themselves when it comes to the undistributed funds accounts.

States have followed a precedent set by states like Michigan and continue to deposit millions of dollars into state general funds, (Ways and Means Committee, 2002).   As it stands, all 50 states have reported undistributed child support collections.  Some of the families are not told about this process and these policies because there is no requirement for that information to be publicized.  In 2013, the states with the highest reported undistributed child support collections were Florida, California, and New York.  The amounts reported were $67,600,928, $68,629,309, and $69,896,887 respectively.  It should be mentioned that Florida fails to pass-through any collections to families receiving TANF benefits, while California passes-though up to $50 for purposes of eligibility for the $638 monthly TANF benefit.  The amount of pass-through has decreased by $870,775 between 2012 and 2013.  The failure to pass-through money to needy families is a blatant action of theft by default exercised by the state.  These problems should have been rectified upon discovery so that low-income families could truly benefit from the child support payments.

The failure to repair the problem first recognized in 2002 relating to the distribution of unclaimed child support money is a clear indication of just how unethical the child support was then and continues to be in 2014.  While states continue to deny benefits to the neediest citizens, it is collecting and retaining money that could be used to assist those same people.  Citizens should question a child support system in relation to ethics and constitutionality when parents can be jailed for owing the same money that states feel that they are entitled to keep.  There needs to be reform and accountability to the child support system in order for the system to prove effective.  In its current state, the government is getting wealthier while children and families remain poor and sinking deeper into poverty.

References

Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, Inc. (2002, April 11). Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources, 4-11-02 Testimony. Retrieved July 16, 2014, from http://waysandmeans.house.gov/legacy/humres/107cong/4-11-02/4-11jens.htm

Illinois State Disbursement Unit. (2009). Illinois State Disbursement Unit. Retrieved July 29, 2014, from https://www.ilsdu.com/pages/en/paymentinstructions.jsp

Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, April 1). FY2013 Preliminary report-Table p-16. Retrieved July 16, 2014, from www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/fy2013-preliminary-report-table

Office of Inspector General. (2011, September 30). Office of Audit Services | Reports & Publications | Office of Inspector General | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved July 16, 2014, from https://oig.hhs.gov/oas/reports/region5/51100025.asp

 

 

 



 
 
July 23, 2014

 

There are 27 states that do not pass-through any money to families receiving Temporary Need for Needy Families or TANF funded cash assistance.  There are other states that have on record that they pass-through some money to these families, but fail their own state laws.  For instance, Arizona is supposed to pass up to $50 to families, which is the amount disregarded for the purposes of eligibility and TANF benefits.  However, between 2009 and 2013, there was $0 passed through to the families of the state.  According to the Alaskan government website, in some cases, the Child Support Services Division may issue child support payments directly to the family for months the family was not on temporary assistance.  Since the state government receives TANF block grants to provide for needy families, the parents should be demanding a full TANF cash benefit, pass-through money or a full child support payment.

 

Georgia is another state that has a policy in place regarding passing through some of the child support payment collected.  Georgia passes-through and disregards some or all support for purposes of fill-the-gap budgeting, (Center for Law and Social Policy, 2009).  Since the state is supposed to, by its own acknowledgment, pay at least some money to the families, those families should be receiving cash on at least a monthly basis.  During 2009 and 2013, Georgia did not distribute one dollar to any families enrolled in the TANF cash program.  According to Laura Wheaton and Elaine Sorensen of the Urban Institute Program (2007), fill-the-gap states are not required to pay the federal share of child support distributed to families to “fill-the-gap” between the states TANF payment and standard of need. This translates simply to more needy children receiving less money from the government even when it child support is supposedly collected on behalf of the children.

 

These failed policies and the failure of states to execute its own guidelines and laws is the reason that child poverty has increased in America.  Some states that previously disregarded a fraction of the child support payments to the families have decided to discontinue the process.  The state of Washington once had in place a policy that yielded income for child support and TANF dependent families.  The state reported that between October 1, 2008 and April 30, 2011, federal and state law allowed the Division of Child Support (DCS) to send a portion of child support collections to a custodian of minor children while receiving a TANF grant.  During these years, the states passed through approximately $29,814,561.  That amount declined drastically between 2012 and 2013 to just $3,484 (Administration for Children and Family, 2014). 

 

 

The justification offered by Washington officials  to justify the drastic and detrimental decline in payments to families were simple budget cuts.  According to the Washington state website, due to budgetary concerns, The Washington State Legislature passed SB 6893, which suspended pass-through payments for collections received on and after May 1, 2011.  Since the states have no problem refusing money to the rightful payees because of budget constraints, noncustodial parents should be granted relief under similar circumstances.  This is a direct comparison of the states ignoring parents that are too poor to afford the child support payments, arrears, rent, utilities, food, etc.  If the government can grant itself debt relief under financially burdened times, the same courtesy should be extended to parents. The truth of the matter is that 100% of child support money collected should be paid, in full, the custodial parents.  Any amount less than 100% constitutes theft.  The system cannot continue to justify enforcements against noncustodial parents by claiming the actions are for the best interest of the children when over half of the states are keeping the money.  These practices have one definite beneficiary and that is the government entities across the nation.

 

References:

 

Center for Law and Social Policy. (2009, June 12). State child support pass-through policites. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.clasp.org/docs/PassThroughFinal061209.pdf

Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, April 1). FY2013 Preliminary Report - Table P-30 | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/fy2013-preliminary-report-table-p-30

State of Alaska. (n.d.). 758-1 Child Support Income. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://dpaweb.hss.state.ak.us/manuals/ta/758/758-1_child_support_income.htm

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. (n.d.). Child Support Pass Through Payment Q & A: Washington State Division of Child Support. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.dshs.wa.gov/dcs/PassThruQA.asp

Wheaton, L., & Sorensen, E. (2007, December). The Potential impact of increasing child support payments to TANF families. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411595_child_support.pdf

 

 

 

 
 
July 16, 2014

 

There are currently 29 states that have official child support debt compromise programs as part of their child support programs.  There are other states that claim that they decide on debt compromise based on individual cases and situations.  Although these programs could offer some sense of relief to parents that owe large amounts of arrears, the validity of these programs actually benefiting those parents is questionable.  The state of Ohio is a state that reports a fully-implemented debt compromise program that has been regulated since 2009.  According to the National Conference of State Legislation or NCSL (2014), the regulation allowed the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) to promulgate rules on the waiver and compromise of permanently assigned arrears.  This relates to child support debt that is owed exclusively to the state because of the receipt of Temporary Aide for Needy Family (TANF) benefits.

 

These debts can increase to alarmingly high amounts especially compared to the extremely low amount of money provided to the families as a welfare grant.  The idea of repaying a relatively low amount of money accompanied with interest and penalty fees is commensurable to predatory lending practices.  To combat these high debts, some states implemented the debt compromise programs for the most part are too difficult for the noncustodial parent to complete.  The law states that the Department developed rules that provide flexibility to local agencies in making these determinations, (NCSL, 2014).  Unfortunately, the flexibility afforded the agencies does not seem to be common practice.  In fact, researching for statistics reflecting the active debt compromise programs are nonexistent.  The department clearly expresses all criteria that must be met but fails to vindicate the effectiveness of the debt compromise programs.  The only conclusion for the lack of positive data is that there are no parents that are benefiting from these programs.

 

Among the reasons that one may be permitted to request a waiver for owed arrears is by satisfying the question of whether the compromise would be in the best interest of the state of Ohio.  This should present an uncomfortable position for the states since the government emphatically maintains that its unjust practices which target parents are in the best interest of the ‘child’.  Along with the promotion of paying current child support and being responsible for one’s children, the best interest of the state includes one key element that should not be ignored.  According to the ODJFS, the best interest of the state of Ohio refers to the state avoiding the accrual of uncollectable debt that has a negative effect on the state of Ohio’s child support program.  The negative effect is directly akin to the amount of grants and incentive payments that the state receives based on mandated performance measures. 

 

In fact, the ODJFS clearly states in the debt compromise rules and regulations that arrears compromise must maximize receipt by the state of federal incentives based on the performance of the child support program, (ODJFS).  These are but a few examples of mandated criteria that must be met before the state and the agencies will consider forgiving child support debt.  The government will consider excusing the debt when, among other limited reasons, the noncustodial parent was incapacitated, unemployed, underemployed, or incarcerated which prevented a modification request.  The list goes on and on and the reason for the lack of data on any success of the debt compromise programs is that none exists.  The ethical thing to do is to provide some relief when income does not meet the debt amount.  However, the government refuses to mandate that the states pass that relief on to the parents.  It does not benefit parents as a whole to have these debt compromise programs in place but fail to utilize them in an meaningful way.  As long as debt compromise programs are mere options for states, parents will continue to be indebted to the government.

 

References:

 

National Conference of State Legislation. (n.d.). State Child Support Agencies with Debt Compromise Policies. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/state-child-support-debt-compromise-policies.aspx

Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2011, September). State Child Support Agencies With Debt Compromise Policies | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/state-child-support-agencies-with-debt-compromise-policies-map

 

 
 
July 8, 2014

 

The charges against Houston father, Clifford Hall, are quite disturbing especially when accompanied with the fact that was that he actually spent time behind bars.  Mr. Hall became a trending topic last year when headlines screamed about a father in jail for spending too much time and paying too much child support to his son.  According to Demond Fernandez of ABC Eyewitness News (2014), court documents show a judge ordered Hall in contempt back in December after determining that he owed for inconsistent payments over several months.  Inconsistent payments, however, is a far cry from willfully failing to pay child support.  Since the latter is the legal reason one can be jailed for outstanding child support debt, it is baffling as to why this father was subject to such a violation to his constitutional rights.

 

The reasoning behind the jail sentence that is supposed to offer some solace to those outraged over the decision is a new piece of legislation.  Although the ruling is confusing at the surface, a new Texas law is being held responsible for this clear miscarriage of justice. In Texas, family court judges can decide whether delinquent child support payers spend time in jail, (Jeffrey L. Boney, 2014).   This punishment can be enforced even if, once the error has been identified, the debt has been satisfied by the parent.  Hall quickly paid the outstanding amount due, but found himself under the same punishments administered to those who fail to pay the debt in full.  Even though the money was being deducted from Hall’s paychecks and the company admitted fault the judge refused to reverse the sentence.  Behind the absurdity of this court decision lays the repeal of HB 847 by the 83rd Texas legislature. 

 

According to Boney (2014), this law makes a jail sentence a judgment option for being in contempt of court for failure to pay child support.  This option, of course, is common practice across the country.  Even though there have been many proponents to the punishment of incarceration for owing child support debt, there seems to be no relief in sight for underemployed, unemployed, or low-income parents. Accompanied with the fact that parents face imprisonment when they are not in debt but are mere victims of computer errors is an even more frightening situation.  Although the company admitted its fault during the appeal process, it did not do so at the hearing in which Hall was initially found in contempt of court for late payments, (Boney, 2014).  This only proves how extremely inflexible the legislators are when deciding laws and guidelines about child support enforcement.  The lack of flexibility to personal situations is one of the main flaws in the current child support system and needs to be changed as soon as possible.

 

This case defies every argument that legislatures and judges have been forcing people to believe since the child support reform was passed in the 1990s.  That argument is that child support enforcement is governed by what is in the best interest of the child.  There is no rational person that can convincingly argue that sending a father to jail over a clerical error supports the best interest of the child.  As these horrendous laws continue to plague our children, families, and parents, lawmakers must be forced to reform these unconstitutional laws.  Removing parents from their children’s lives in a camouflage of concern is a hypocritical action.  The government and courts screech about fathers being more involved with their children but will lock them up for an extended period of time with no remorse when money is not paid.  While the parent is incarcerated, the child is missing both time and money from the absent parent.  We must end the justification of jailing people for debt because of the unconstitutionality of the act and the immorality of the reasoning.  Most parents that owe child support debt are low-income and jailing a disadvantaged person for any profitable gain is akin to slavery.  It is time to put an end to modern day slavery which is currently named child support.

 

References:

 

 Fernandez, D. (2014, January 21). Houston man who says he overpaid child support turns himself in | abc13.com. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://abc13.com/archive/9401923/

New Family Texas Law Claims First Victim African American Dad Separated From his Son and Sent to Jail after Employer Makes Crucial Child Support Withholding Error. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://forwardtimesonline.com/2013/index.php/state-local/item/1438-new-family-texas-law-claims-first-victim-african-american-dad-separated-from-his-son-and-sent-to-jail-after-employer-makes-crucial-child-support-withholding-erro

 

 

 
 
July 2, 2014

 

The state of Ohio, along with every other state, mandates certain criteria be met before permanently assigned arrears can be waived.  According to the Ohio Department Job and Family Services or ODJFS, the director or administrator of the child support enforcement agency (CSEA) may elect to accept a request or compromise permanently assigned arrears.  Problems arise because these are public employees assigned the authority to preside over cases usually reserved for magistrates and judges. This may be a direct reason that there are so few successful debt compromise examples available.   Since the child support enforcement agencies are primarily responsible for the collection of money, there is no sympathy to the personal situations that may occur in the life of the parent.

 

Another reason for the lack of approved compromise of child support debt is that the criterion is so strict, waivers are very rarely granted.  One reason that the director could compromise arrears is if there is a lack of income received over a period of time.  For instance, the gross income if an obligor has been, for at least the twelve months preceding the date of the request, less than two-hundred twenty-five percent of the federal poverty for one person (ODJFS).  Based on this guideline, more people qualify for debt compromise programs because they live in poverty; however, the debt continues to accrue on these low-income parents.  Criteria and information that is meant to help these financially less fortunate parents seems to be lost when researching the compromised arrears statistics in the state of Ohio. 

 

Out of the eight counties in Ohio that offer some form of debt compromise programs, there is no data available that describes the effectiveness of these programs or the results.  These programs are paid for by federal grants paid to the states and then to the counties to supposedly assist parents with accumulated debt.  It is impossible to determine the success or failure of the programs without empirical evidence.  This is something that the state has yet to provide its citizens.  Another reason that the child support debt may be excused is if the permanently assigned arrears accrued during periods that the obligor was incapacitated, unemployed, underemployed, or incarcerated, (ODJFS).  By this merit, many parents should be excused from the child support debt without consequences.  Unfortunately, this is not happening in Ohio or in many other states that supposedly help those in trouble with child support debt.

 

Underemployment is extremely common across America in the post-recession era.  On the surface, the CSE makes parents believe that the reasons listed are not acceptable grounds for debt compromise.  According to ODJFS, the obligor may have been eligible for a modification of the child support obligation had a modification been pursued for those periods that a financial hardship occurred. Regrettably, most parents that are suffering through such circumstances are only met with resistance and are not provided information necessary to reduce payment amounts.  The obligor needs to be given the opportunity to present mitigating circumstances as to why no such modification was sought, (ODJFS).  This is another piece of the puzzle that is met with resistance by the child support debt collectors turned judges and magistrates.

 

Again, the decisions are made by directors and not official law professionals which may lead to bias results to termination requests.  The bias decision may stem from the fact that child support officials are only employed because of the child support system.  Without open child support cases, the entire agency would be closed.  These enforcement workers literally make a living from child support, which is yet another section of the system that depends on these children as a source of revenue.  It is nearly impossible to believe that the assigned decision-makers will not be more concerned with their own livelihoods instead of the livelihoods of the parents and the children that they are hired to serve.

 

As long as information is hidden from the most affected citizens, the parents, it will remain nearly impossible to change a child support order or compromise the debt.  The child support guidelines seem to offer some remedy, but the officiators feel it more beneficial to keep people blind to the laws that govern child support.  Unfair and unconstitutional laws are harmful to families and especially to the noncustodial parents.  As long as the decisions are left to civil servants instead of elected judges, the faux rulings will not be impartial to the parents.  It is time to reform the system so that the children are the true beneficiaries from child support and not the government and its employees.

 

Reference:

 

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. (n.d.). OCS: Request to waive or compromise arrears rules. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://www.odjfs.state.oh.us/clearances/show.asp?id=5709