State officials and agencies often make headlines when awards are given for child support enforcement 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.
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