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State Communities Aid Association

May/June 1996 issue of Poverty & Race

State Communities Aid Association
One Columbia Place
Albany, New York 12207
518 463-1896
Contact: Russell Sykes

In 1995, with research funding from PRRAC and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, SCAA undertook a detailed analysis of New York State's Child Support Enforcement System. Governed by the principles that constructive child support reform would assist New York to further replace scarce public funds currently spent through the welfare system, as well as assist more custodial parents (the vast majority of whom are mothers) and their children to gain further economic independence, SCAA published the report, "Orders in the Court: The Failures of New York's Judicial Child Support System." (The 31-page, September 1995 report is available from SCAA for $7.)

The SCAA report was designed not only to shed light on New York's dismal record in establishing and enforcing child support orders, but also to put a human face on the child support issue through our interactive work with the New York State Chapter of the Association of Children for the Enforcement of Support (ACES), a grassroots organization of custodial parents and their children advocating for major child support reforms.

The SCAA study demonstrated that New York severely lagged the national average and the record of most other states in number of paternities established, number of child support orders established, in welfare dollars replaced by child support and in overall collections. Over $2.6 billion in current child support and child support arrears remains uncol-lected in New York; only 26% of the 1.3 million cases in the public (Title IV-D) child support system have an order in place, and collections are made in only 19% of cases. (The New York family court system was found not to follow established state child support guidelines in more than 80% of cases.)

The SCAA study made several detailed and controversial recommendations for systematically reforming New York's child support system, including: 1) moving the State's child support enforcement efforts from the Department of Social Services to the Department of Taxation and Finance; 2) greatly limiting the role of the family court system, in favor of a more simplified administrative system that would closely follow state child support guidelines; 3) expanding enforcement efforts, such as driver and professional license suspensions and improving the timeliness of employer reporting data for new hires and rehires that could be used to execute automatic wage withholding; 4) further centralizing collections and other aspects of child support through state takeover of local child support functions; and 5) reinvesting federal incentive funds in expanded child support staff and technology improvements.

Our advocacy efforts utilizing the report have been geared towards public education through the statewide media to highlight the need for reform, assisting ACES to build a broader membership statewide that can apply grassroots pressure, and administrative and legislative efforts with the Governor's Office and the legislature to incorporate the report's recommendations into law and policy.

The SCAA report attracted substantial media attention, with articles and follow-up in numerous Albany, Rochester, Buffalo, Long Island, Syracuse and New York City dailies. Wire stories appeared on both the Associated. Press and in Gannett papers. Editorial support for positions in the SCAA report has also come from several upstate papers, as well as Newsday. A recent op-ed on child support prepared by SCAA was carried in several papers statewide.

The suggestion in SCAA's report for administrative establishment of child support orders has been backed by the New York Public Welfare Association and ACES, despite opposition by the State Association of Court Hearing Examiners. SCAA's recommendation for moving child support enforcement functions to the Department of Taxation and Finance is also being taken seriously. State Senator Stephen Saland, the Republican Chair of the Senate Children and Families Committee, has released a proposal to move the collection of all child support arrears to Tax and Finance. There is similar interest in this proposal from the Democratic Assembly.

Governor Pataki has also addressed several child support issues of long-standing concern to SCAA through his own initiatives, including the suspension of drivers and professional licenses for non-payment of support, further emphasis on voluntary paternity procedures and stricter requirements for employers to report new hires and provide income data to Tax and Finance.

SCAA is currently exploring the possibility of bringing in outside experts from other states this summer to sit with key New York decision-makers and their staff to discuss operational concerns, due process protections and other questions that arise as a result of movement away from the courts and towards administrative procedures for the establishment of child support awards.

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