Pursue Federal Funds for Child-Support-Related Demonstration Projects

Texas should pursue federal grant funds for child-support-related demonstration projects.


Background
A probable outcome of proposed new federal child-support legislation would be funding for several child-support demonstration projects. (Recommendations on possible demonstration topics such as penalties for delinquencies are in other sections of this report.)

Two federal child-support demonstration projects already are under way. The first, the Parent s Fair Share program, addresses unemployment among absent parents. Ten states are participating in the project. Texas did not apply for a grant, despite encourage ment from the Texas congressional delegation and existing state legislation that would have allowed Texas to participate. Texas also is not participating in the Child Access Project, which addresses visitation and mediation issues in child-support cases.

Texas should participate in federally funded demonstrations because their outcomes often shape national policies. By participating, Texas can help ensure that these policies will further state policy goals. Participation also gives the state the chance to test innovative strategies with relatively little financial risk.

Successful grant applications require advanced planning and coordination among several groups. Often, the request for proposals (RFP) is specific about the strategies the project will demonstrate. In such cases, the state must develop a project to satisfy both the state s needs and the RFP. Participation in federally funded projects also requires that the state appropriate state matching funds for the project.


Recommendation
Texas should actively pursue federal demonstration funds for child-support projects that become available as a result of legislation in the next congressional session.

The Attorney General s office should work in advance with the Department of Human Services and the Governor s office to anticipate federal demonstration projects that may become available during the next congressional session. These agencies should consult with other stakeholders including parents advocacy groups to develop grant proposals.

These state agencies should monitor proposed demonstration projects and apply for any available grants. The Attorney General s office should coordinate the application process.

The Legislature should earmark $2 million per year from the Attorney General s child support enforcement appropriation to use for demonstration projects if federal funds become available. If no federal demonstration projects are funded, the money should revert to Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program.


Implications
Participating in federal demonstration projects would put Texas in the forefront of national efforts to reform child support and public assistance programs. This initiative would allow Texas to test strategies and collect information that wil l be valuable to the state s CSE program regardless of the outcome on the national level. By conducting a demonstration project, Texas would be in a position to help shape future federal legislation, just as other states are now doing.

One disadvantage is that such projects entail some initial costs to the state. The recommendation that agencies prepare early for federal grant applications addresses a problem the state has had in the past putting together grant applications hastily or missing opportunities altogether.


Fiscal Impact
The $2 million could be used to draw down federal demonstration funds. Insufficient data are available on the fiscal impact of other demonstration projects.