State Communities Aid Assn.July/August 1999 issue of Poverty & Race
State Communities Aid Assn.
One Columbia Pl.
Albany, NY 12207
Contact: Rus Sykes
In 1995, PRRAC provided SCAA with funding to conduct research and develop strategies to improve New York State’s child support system. The funding led to the development of two detailed reports: Orders in the Court: The Failures of New York’s Judicial Child Support System (1995) and Child Support Reform in New York: A Key to Making Welfare Reform Successful & Alleviating Child Poverty (1998). The focus of our research and advocacy efforts, anticipating the high volume system that would be needed to get child support to children more rapidly as welfare reform evolved, was to make all aspects of the state’s system more administrative rather than judicial in nature and to toughen enforcement and collection procedures.
These reports, our subsequent public education and advocacy efforts, and a strong commitment by both the Governor and the Legislature to improve the system have resulted in significant, positive changes. Many of our suggestions for reform have been adopted:
• New York instituted an aggressive motor vehicle and professional license revocation program for the failure to pay child support, well prior to such reforms being required federally;
• New York strengthened its system of voluntary paternity establishment both in hospitals and at vital statistic offices where birth certificates are handled;
• New York has begun efforts to involve non-custodial parents in work activities under welfare reform to improve their income situation and make them more capable of paying child support;
• New York became more aggressive in the pursuit of child support arrears, transferring many cases to the Department of Taxation & Finance for more aggressive collection measures;
• New York increased its use of property execution to seize and freeze liquid assets of child support debtors who cannot be reached through automatic wage withholding;
• New York strengthened its wage reporting system to receive and cross-match information from employers relating to new hires with child support caseload information;
• New York toughened criminal penalties for failure to pay child support;
• New York made the system for review and adjustment of child support orders far easier for custodial mothers, offering the option of automatic COLA adjustments to increase the amount of child support.
As a result of this more aggressive posture on child support, major statistical improvements have occurred since 1994: a 40% increase in the number of paternities established annually, to over 50,000; a 35% increase in the number of child support orders established annually, to over 90,000; and a nearly 50% increase in collections, to $900 million annually.
But New York can’t rest on its laurels. A total of 378,000 cases in the public IV-D child support system, representing more than 750,000 children, do not have a child support order in place. In 175,000 of those cases, paternity is already established, but the case languishes, often in a backlogged court system where it takes, on average, 130 days from the time a petition is filed to the time an order is secured. SCAA continues to push for legislation that would speed the establishment process in these cases. The Governor, with our active involvement, has introduced and the Republican State Senate has passed legislation that would establish a quasi-administrative process for all cases in which paternity is already established and income information on the non-custodial parent is available through tax records. Under this system, within 35 days an automated administrative order would be issued from the state’s central child support system and ratified by the court. The order would be in place within 35 days, and the first-class mail notice to both parents would protect their due process rights by affording a hearing date within the time frame to contest any inaccurate information. The State Assembly continues to resist this legislation on due process grounds, even though the state’s Office of Court Administration and the Chief Judge, as well as the Business Council, the League of Women Voters and ACES, a grassroots organization representing children, all support it.
Additionally, SCAA has worked closely with the Governor and the Office of Child Support Enforcement on legislation to expand the child support pass-through and disregard for families on welfare (TANF) who have a child support order in place and receive collections. By expanding the amount of income passed through to the child from the current $50 to $100 monthly and disregarding it for welfare eligibility purposes, we believe that more absent parents will pay child support and more custodial parents will be able to combine child support with wages and the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credit, so as to escape welfare. Unfortunately, the Governor has linked this proposal to an unnecessarily punitive “full family sanction,” in which the entire family including the children will lose all welfare benefits if the mother fails to cooperate in the establishment of child support. This cooperation provision quite often gets entangled in issues of domestic violence, where even the most sophisticated domestic violence screening protocols, such as those in place in New York, may not be sufficiently protective of the mother. In some instances, only non-cooperation can avoid potential danger to the family. Because the expanded pass-through is so important, SCAA, along with other partners, is seeking ways to soften the sanction provision and to make the legislation palatable to all parties.
The work that PRRAC helped SCAA to successfully launch in 1995 with initial grant funding continues today. Because of SCAA’s efforts, in partnership with others, New York’s child support system is vastly different and improved from four years ago.
Orders in the Court (1995) and Child Support Reform in New York (1998) are available ($7 each) from SCAA.
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