Improve Child Support Information Collected in the State s AFDC and Medicaid Programs
The Legislature should improve child support information collected in the state s AFDC and Medicaid Programs.

Background
In child support cases involving out-of-wedlock births, the state must establish legal paternity for the child before the court can order support to be paid. Texas Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program, like those in many other states, has a low paternity establishment rate. One reason is a lack of information on AFDC and Medicaid cases needing paternity establishment. About 3,600 of the state s current AFDC cases do not include the name of any possible father. 1

According to law, the AFDC applicant who does not cooperate fully must be denied AFDC benefits, although the children may receive benefits. Despite this requirement, some cases are referred for child support enforcement without adequate information to esta blish paternity. A related problem is that AFDC clients may fail to cooperate with the child support agency once their grants are established. 2

AFDC applicants may refuse to cooperate with child support enforcement efforts for several reasons. First, an applicant may fear retaliation from the father if she attempts to secure a support order or collect support. Second, she may simply want to exclud e the father from her life and the lives of the children. Finally, she may be receiving money from him and not reporting it.

In AFDC cases, each child support payment flows through the CSE collection department. The state issues the family a check only for the first $50 of each month s support payment an amount known as the disregard, because it is not counted against the AFDC grant. The state retains the rest of the payment as recovered welfare costs and splits this retained collection with the federal government according to the federal AFDC match rate.

This arrangement encourages the custodial parent to prefer unofficial support paid directly to her. Some recipients collect unrecorded payments, keep the entire amount and still collect the AFDC payment. Contrary to the popular image of the deadbeat dad who has abdicated responsibility for his children and disappeared, most noncustodial fathers in AFDC cases maintain some informal relationship with their children and provide occasional groceries or gifts. 3

Finding ways to deter nonreporting of income will increase savings to the state and make the entire system fairer for everyone. O ther states are experimenting with ways to improve their information on AFDC referrals to the CSE program and to promote cooperation with the CSE agency.

Pennsylvania has tested a strategy of stationing CSE workers at AFDC intake sites so that the CSE program can participate in initial intake interviews. However, this is duplicative and requires recipients to interact with two caseworkers. A better way to i mprove the process is to train AFDC intake workers to elicit better information from clients. 4

Te xas has a training videotape that is shown to AFDC caseworkers on an infrequent basis. Because of a perennially high caseworker turnover rate, many caseworkers may never see the tape. To date, Texas has not taken any aggressive steps to improve the quality of information obtained from AFDC referrals. 5

Recommendations
A. State law should define full cooperation with the child support enforcement (CSE) program as providing at minimum the father s first and last name and one of the folowing: social security number, his last known address, place of work or the name and address of a family member at the time of application.

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) applicants should not be approved for benefits until they have provided this information or unless the CSE requirement is waived, as it is in cases in which the father may harm the mother or child if the state pursues child support. Children of uncooperative applicants should continue to receive benefits.

B. The Texas Department of Human Services should train AFDC eligibility workers to ensure that eligibility determination is executed according to law.


Implications
This recommendation would improve the quality of information entering the CSE system. It would also encourage cooperation from custodial parents, increase parental responsibility and reduce fraud. Some families might lose unreported support payments; these payments, however, are in any case illegal.

In some cases, a child s mother truly may not know the father s identity. However, she still must offer the AFDC caseworker a list of possible names or else provide some evidence to substantiate her claim that she does not know the identity of the father (such as a police report of rape). In cases where the mother lists several possible fathers, genetic testing will identify which man is actually the father.


Fiscal Impact
Sufficient information is not available to determine the potential effect of these recommendations on actual program revenues. However, these recommendation s would improve paternity establishment, a necessary prerequisite for collecting support payments.

Improving AFDC intake information for the CSE program would therefore improve child support collections in AFDC cases, both by increasing the length of time a case would be paying and by increasing the number of cases with collections.

One side-effect of these recommendations would be to decrease AFDC expenditures by denying applications or delaying the grant award pending adequate information.



Endnotes
1 Texas Office of Attorney General, Child Support Enforcement Division, Strategic Planning (Austin, Texas, September 1992). (Computer printout.)
2 Interviews with Strategic Planning staff, Texas Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Enforcement Division, Austin, Texas, October 1992.
3 Unwed Fathers: Finding Child Support Requires More Than Just Money, New York Times (July 20, 1992), p. A-10.
4 Bee Moorhead, State Survey of Innovative Child Support Enforcement Practices (The University of Texas at Austin, September 1992). (Draft.)
5 Interviews with Child Support Enforcement staff, Texas Office of the Attorney General, Austin, Texas, October 1992.