Collect 100 Percent of Child Support Owed to Texas Children by the Year 2000

Texas should pursue a policy goal of ensuring that all child support owed to Texas children is paid by the decade s end.


Background
The single most effective way to keep children from falling into poverty may be to ensure that they receive financial support from both parents. A Census Bureau study found that among families who received child support payments in 1989, only 21 percent fe ll below the poverty line, compared with 43 percent for those without court-ordered child support. 1

Texas children are particularly threatened by poverty. One quarter of the state s children live in poverty. By 1995, the number of families receiving AFDC will rise to about 360,000. Altogether, 13 percent of Texas children will be receiving AFDC by 1995. 2

Almost all AFDC cases are automatically referred to the Attorney General s Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program. By collecting child support for these families, the CSE program helps keep them from depending on public assistance. Unfortunately, the CSE program collects support in only a fraction of AFDC cases. In 1992, the program made collections in only 11 percent of AFDC-related child support cases. This low collection rate is due primarily to the absence of support orders in 75 percent of the state s AFDC cases. 3

Single-parent families who have not yet turned to public assistance also need regular child support payments. In at least one in five non-AFDC families, child support is the only income standing between the family and poverty. The Texas CSE program can mak e collections in 22 percent of these cases, primarily because more of the non-AFDC cases have child support orders established. 4

Increasing the number of court orders is only one way to increase child support collections. The state also can increase collections by adopting tough strategies to extract collections from reluctant absent parents and by making the failure to support chil dren a social taboo as well as a crime. The state also must reform its AFDC and medical-assistance programs to encourage program participants to cooperate with CSE activities.

Texas can streamline its entire court-order establishment and enforcement process to make its administration more cost-effective. As discussed elsewhere in this report, automation and administrative process could decrease the time caseworkers spend on each case, allowing the CSE program to work more cases.

Increasing child support collections would provide financial stability for many Texas children and relieve Texas taxpayers of the responsibility for their support. However, Texas, like many other st ates, has made little effort to quantify the benefits of such efforts. Massachusetts CSE program has a team of economists developing a method for determining the program s actual benefit to the state. 5


Recommendations
A. The Legislature should adopt a goal of collecting 100 percent of the support due Texas children by the year 2000.

To achieve this goal, the Legislature should direct the Attorney General to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the child support problem. This strategy should ref lect the active participation of members of state agencies, interest groups, judicial-branch representatives, academics and members of the private sector. Within 12 months, the Attorney General should present a comprehensive, coordinated plan for increasin g child support involving federal, state and local cooperation and public-private partnerships.

B. Texas should continue to review the child support enforcement practices of other states and adopt their most effective strategies.

C. The Legislature should direct the Attorney General to take a proactive stance on federal legislation affecting child support.

The Attorney General should encourage Congress to provide the state with additional tools to establish and enforce child support. The Attorney General should urge the adoption of a federal legislative agenda including strategies for addressing the issues of unemployment and out-of-wedlock birth as they relate to child support.

D. The Attorney General should join with the leaders of other states child support enforcement programs to seek more dynamic leadership from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.

The federal office should be encouraged to provide model legislation, better instructions on federal mandates and increased technical assistance to state CSE offices.

E. The Legislature should direct the Attorney General to develop a cost-savings method for the CSE program and report savings to the Legislature each biennium.

In developing this method, Texas should use information available from other states, but it should accurately reflect conditions specific to Texas.


Implications
Providing the support due every Texas child would help reverse a 20-year trend of increasing public-assistance caseloads and rising poverty among children. This would save taxpayer dollars used to fund public assistance.

Reducing child poverty in Texas also would decrease the incidence of poverty-related problems such as substance abuse, crime and family violence. This would result in additional savings, as fewer taxpayer dollars would be needed to address these related issues.


Fiscal Impact
The fiscal implications of this proposal cannot be estimated. It is impossible to predict the final form and timing of action by the Attorney General. However, evidence suggests an aggressive child support program built on this policy could be very benefic ial to the state s children.

An estimated $1.6 billion currently is owed in Texas child support cases. 6 This figure refers only to cases in the CSE caseload; many m ore instances of unpaid support undoubtedly exist. The CSE program collected $301 million in support in 1992.

Collecting child support owed would save taxpayer dollars at the local, state and federal levels. At this time, data do not exist to quantify potential savings in Texas.


Endnotes
1 U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P-60 No. 173, Child Support and Alimony: 1989 (U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1991).
2 Texas Department of Human Services, Legislative Appropriations Request FY 1994-1995, p. 186.
3 Texas State Auditor s Office, Management Audit of the Texas Child Support Enforcement Program (Austin, Texas, October 1992).
4 Ibid.
5 Bee Moorhead, State Survey of Innovative Child Support Practices (The University of Texas at Austin, September 1992). (Draft.)
6 Texas State Auditor s Office, Management Audit of the Texas Child Support Enforcement Program.