Establish an Administrative Hearings Process for Child Support Enforcement

The Legislature should establish an administrative process for resolving child support issues.


Background
Texas child support enforcement (CSE) caseload exceeded 700,000 cases in 1992 and is growing at the rate of 150,000 cases per year. As the federal government broadens the state s responsibility to enforce child support in public assistance cases, the CSE caseload will grow even faster.

Texas, like most other states, is struggling to serve the needs of CSE clients within the guidelines mandated by Congress wh ile keeping up with the administrative requirements of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). However, despite the best efforts of more than 2,000 CSE staff, Texas is falling behind, collecting support in only 11 percent of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cases and in 22 percent of non-AFDC cases in 1992.

Texas CSE efforts are constrained by the state s reliance on the court system for nearly every step of child support order establishment and enforcement. The already overb urdened courts cannot keep pace with CSE caseload growth. Scheduling court time can take several months, during which time circumstances in a case may change and the parties may move. In addition, the costs of establishing and enforcing child support throu gh the courts are so high that the CSE program can only afford to work a fraction of its caseload.

Many states have adopted administrative process for child support matters. Administrative process is the term commonly used to describe a comprehensive ad ministrative hearings structure for establishing and enforcing child support. Administrative process relies on administrative law judges, hearings officers and non-attorney staff members to conduct most child support activities, reserving the courts for di fficult and contested cases. 1

Establishing and enforcing child support through administrative hearings rather than judicial court processes saves the state time and reduces administrative costs by decreasing the time necessary to perform child support act ivities and by minimizing use of costly judicial processes. Administrative process also increases the amount of support children receive by expediting CSE activities. Furthermore, expediting cases increases the state s revenues while decreasing the risk of federal audit penalties. Finally, expenditures on administrative resolution of child support cases may qualify for greater federal funds than expenditures on judicial processes. 2

Minnesota and Colorado are among the states which have attempted to quanti fy the cost savings of implementing administrative process. The estimates from these two states indicate that use of administrative process may result in administrative costs savings and definitely results in increased child support collections. Both these and other states indicate that use of administrative process cuts in half the time necessary for paternity establishment. 3

During a special session in the summer of 1991, the Texas Legislature considered comprehensive administrative process legislation. The Texas Performance Review recommended that the Legislature establish administrative process because it would increase the efficiency of the CSE program. The Legislature declined to enact the needed statutes despite the strong recommendations of the Comp troller and the Attorney General and the endorsement of administrative process by other states and by OCSE. 4

The CSE program will seek to establish administrative process for enforcement in the coming legislative session. The proposed model supports the g oals of customer service and efficiency. The model will provide an efficient, effective process for the informal resolution of child support issues through administrative hearings officers, while preserving both the due process rights of the parties and th e authority of the courts to rule on all child support decisions.



Recommendations
A. The Legislature should establish an administrative process for child support establishment and enforcement in the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program.

The Legislature should adopt the model proposed by the CSE program.

B. The Legislature should direct the Attorney General s office to develop methodologies for estimating cost-savings to the state resulting from improved child support enforcement.

The Legislature should ensure that savings resulting from improved enforcement are accurately reflected in agency appropriations.


Implications
Implementing administrative process for child support enforcement would save the state money while increasing support to Texas families.

By removing child support establishment and enforcement from the courtroom, administrative process would also make child support less adversarial. Administrative process would cast child support in a more positive light and show respect for obligors and th eir families, rather than encouraging defensiveness and focusing on non-cooperation.

By removing most child support cases from the courtroom, administrative process would allow the courts to concentrate on other important family issues such as domestic violence, and to spend adequate time to resolve those difficult child support cases which do revert to judicial processes.

Opponents argue that in expediting cases, administrative process abridges due process rights. However, administrative process statutes in other states, such as those advocated by OCSE, make express provision for due process, emphasizing that cases can reve rt to judicial process at any point. 5


Fiscal Impact
Implementation of comprehensive administrative process for child support could save administrative costs, increase revenues, increase federal funding, decrease risk of federal audit penalties and provide additional support to children.

Data are not available to estimate the decrease in administrative costs resulting from implementation of administrative process. Following a one-year implementation period, administrative process would provide $6.5 million in additional CSE revenue in 1995 , increasing child support collections by $46 million. Over five years, administrat ive process would net the state $30 million in retained child support collections and federal funds and provide $283 million in additional support to Texas families. To achieve the estimated savings to the General Revenue Fund identified in the fiscal impa ct table, Medicaid appropriations would need to be reduced.

Gain to the Child Net Savings to the Savings to the
Fiscal Support Retained Administrative Child Support Retained General Revenue Change in
Year Collections Account Costs Collections Account Fund 001 FTEs

1994 $ 0 $ 0 $ 0 $ 0 0
1995 8,055,000 1,611,000 6,444,000 152,000 0
1996 8,828,000 1,766,000 7,062,000 167,000 0
1997 9,601,000 1,920,000 7,681,000 181,000 0
1998 10,374,000 2,075,000 8,299,000 181,000 0
Endnotes
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administrative Process: A Guide for Designing and Implementing an Administrative Process for Child Support Enforcement (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 1985).
2 Ibid.
3 Bee Moorhead, State Survey of Innovative Child Support Enforcement Practices (Austin, Texas: The University of Texas at Austin, September 1992). (Draft.); Elyse Wechterman, States Use of Administrative Process (Austin, Texas: Office of the Attorney General, September 1992).
4 Interviews with Child Support Enforcement Division staff, Texas Office of the Attorney General, Austin, Texas, October 1992.
5 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administrative Process (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 1985).