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State Communities Aid Association

March/April 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

State Communities Aid Association
150 State St., 4th Floor
Albany, NY 12207
518/463-1896
Contact: Russell Sykes

In 1995, PRRAC and several other foundations supplied SCAA with funding to analyze the reasons for the poor performance of New York's Child Support System, and to develop various reform proposals for improving both the establishment of paternity and orders of support and broadening effective enforcement efforts. At the same time, SCAA utilized funds to stimulate statewide advocacy efforts on child support and to assist in the organizational growth of the Association of Children for the Enforcement of Support (ACES), a grassroots child support advocacy group of custodial parents and their children (see Poverty & Race, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1996).

The PRRAC funding led to development of SCAA's 1995 report, "Orders in the Court," which recommended: I) moving child support enforcement efforts at least partially to the NYS Dept. of Tax and Finance; 2) moving many straightforward child support cases out of the court system and into a more high-volume and cost-efficient administrative process system; 3) expanding available enforcement tools; and 4) reinvesting funds in the staffing and technology needed to expand, update and improve the state's child support systems.

Since our last advocacy update, much has happened. SCANs recommendations have gained significant credibility and in fact, collection of child support arrears is now at least partially handled by the Dept. of Tax and Finance; a new reporting system that provides the Office of Child Support Enforcement with vital income information on non-custodial parents is up and operating; various new enforcement tools, such as driver's license suspension, are in full use, and serious discussion is under way regarding movement, at least partially, towards an administrative process system. Because of SCAA's work and the significant attention being paid to child support by Gov. Pataki and the Legislature, New York's paternity establishment rate is up, the number of new child support orders is increasing and collections are also far higher. But much more needs to be done.

Taking advantage of federal welfare reform, which requires strict new performance standards for child support and forces states to adopt various administrative procedures for paternity establishment, for subpoenaing income information by child support agencies and for other areas, SCAA felt the timing was right for a serious policy discussion among all interested parties to focus fully on administrative process.

In particular, SCAA recommends the establishment of initial orders of support, an area in which New York lags behind other states and the nation in performance. The Governor's proposed welfare reform legislation fully conformed to the new federal law as it related to child support but did not take the next logical step towards administrative establishment of initial orders.

Recognizing that the federal law was driving states to develop high-volume, low-cost child support systems, SCAA sought and secured funding from the Foundation for Child Development to hold a Child Support Policy Roundtable in November 1996 in Albany. The Roundtable, which was jointly sponsored by SCAA, ACES, and the N.Y. Public Welfare Association, was intended to focus exclusively on a discussion regarding how New York could move more towards an administrative process system in the upfront establishment of child support orders.

SCAA and the other co-sponsors felt it would be important to understand how other states have grappled with this issue, and so decided to bring in independent facilitators with experience in other states. We utilized two consultants: Mike Henry from Policy Studies, Inc. in Denver, who previously headed the Office of Child Support in both Virginia and Missouri as those states moved towards administrative process, and Paula Roberts of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a national expert in child support and state best-practice issues. The Roundtable also benefited greatly from background materials on New York's current child support system developed by the State Department of Social Services/Office of Child Support Enforcement. Additional materials for the Roundtable were developed on the new federal law and on administrative process systems by both Policy Studies, Inc. and CLASP and are available from SCAA.

The goal of the Roundtable was to convene a broad array of governmental, advocacy and other organizations to discuss the issues of administrative process and due process protections. With that in mind, representatives of the Governor's Office, the Division on Budget, the Senate and Assembly, the Office of Court Administration, the NYS Dept. of Social Services, local county commissioners, the Business Council and several advocacy groups (SCAA, League of Women Voters, UJA Federation, ACES, Greater Up-state Law Project) were all invited and attended the session.

The session focused on state systems in Missouri, Oregon, South Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia and provided an open forum for discussion of potential replicability in New York of various administrative process models. It was particularly useful as a vehicle to break down preconceived notions that many people brought to the table. Even the representatives from the Office of Court Administration began to recognize that many cases are routine enough that the courts may not be a necessary forum to rule on an order based on New York's child support guidelines system. It was the collective feeling of the group that serious consideration should be given to exploring how New York could move more cases (particularly those with straightforward income information) incrementally into an administrative process.

As negotiations at the state level on implementation of welfare reform and related child support provisions of the new federal law move forward, SCAA is following up on the Roundtable by providing the Assembly and Senate with further information on other states' practices in child support and
with model legislative language based on other states' child support statutes. We're also working jointly with Policy Studies, Inc. and CLASP to develop formal comments on the Governor's child support proposals and areas for improvement.

Just over two years have elapsed since the original PRRAC funding of our research efforts, and now, through applied advocacy, successful use of the media, follow-up policy analysis, joint work with strong partner organizations and the ability to convene diverse individuals and organizations around a common table, SCAA is helping to greatly reform New York's child support system in ways that will economically benefit children and augment New York's welfare-to-work efforts. Child support remains a major untapped income source for low-income women and their children that is not time-limited. Through the systems change we are promoting, we hope child support income will become a more reliable avenue to supplement part-time wages and assist more women and their children to escape welfare.
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