I have long been urging states to take advantage of the IV-D program, which through uncapped matching, triples state investment in child support activities, to help finance self-help services. Several states such as California do so, and California has used it as the foundation for building a broader self-help infrastructure.
Now, HHS has issued draft regulations for comment on the program, and this is an opportunity to help make sure that this program is as helpful as possible to all, including the self-represented. Comments are due on Jan 16 to HHS. I encourage folks both to comment, to engage others in commenting, and to consider how they can best move forward to take advantage of this program.
To help with the comment process, SRLN has engaged Lee Mohar, who was instrumental in California figuring out to to make use of this stream, to prepare an analysis of the proposed regs. The analysis is here.
Please spread this around so that HHS can have the benefit of as many comments as possible.
Also, to assist states to plan for and adopt the use of IV-D money for self-help and related child support services, SRLN with funding from SJI, has prepared this Manual. Here is the link to the companion Webinar, featuring Lee Mohar and John Greacen, hosted by the National Center for State Courts. If your state is already providing self-help services to litigants in Title IV-D child support cases, you may be able to seek federal reimbursement for 66 percent of your costs going forward — thus tripling your money in the future!
Some of the key point’s from Lee’s analysis extracted here:
Self-Help – Access to Justice
With regard to access to justice, OCSE is proposing to add section 304(b)(3)(vi) to specifically authorize FFP for activities designed to increase parents’ pro se access to child support proceedings. While this is not a change to existing practice, it is significant in that the commentary clearly acknowledges that most parents in the IV-D caseload are not represented by private attorneys and are attempting to navigate legal proceedings on a pro se basis. They emphasize the importance of the informed participation of both parents in child support proceedings. Court based self-help programs have proven to be a cost effective way to ensure access to the courts for self-represented litigants. Hopefully, the inclusion of pro se access activities in the list of services that are eligible for FFP will encourage state IV-D agencies to explore the expanded use of court based self-help programs.
(Richard comments that this, if adopted, will greatly reduce states fears that they may run into problems with this approach.)
Education and Outreach
OCSE proposes adding a new paragraph, section 304.20 (b)(12) to allow FFP for educational and outreach activities intended to inform the public about the child support enforcement program, responsible parenting, and the financial consequences of raising children when the parents are not married to each other. In many states courts are the best location for presenting educational activities because these outreach activities and educational programs are for parents and others who are not yet part of the IV-D caseload. The only justification under current regulations for reimbursement of court assistance to persons who are pursuing child support on their own without the assistance of child support enforcement agency is the provision of “outreach and educational programs.” The proposed amendments to section 304.21(a)(1) (which sets forth the rules for FFP in cooperative arrangements with the courts and law enforcement agencies) do not include education and outreach activities as defined by proposed section 304.20(b)(12) as eligible for FFP. By not specifically referencing proposed section 304.20(b)(12) in section 304.21(a)(1) it could be argued that outreach and educational programs provided by court staff pursuant to a cooperative agreement are not reimbursable activities. This provision might result in the elimination of IV-D support for court self help support to persons with non- IV-D cases. Were section 304(b)(12) be added to the list of activities in section 304.21(a)(1) that are eligible for reimbursement through a cooperative agreement, this potential problem would be eliminated.
(Richard notes that this might be an area in which an appropriate comment might significantly improve the ultimate regulations.)
Jan 9 Updating Note from Richard on Above Paragraph — Michael Hayes of HHS has offered the following clarification: “In response to your question about outreach activities: The proposed rule on outreach and educational activities is actually expansive not restrictive as compared to current rules. The intent behind the section is to clarify that those activities are allowable for FFP when delivered to parents.”
OCSE proposes to amend section 303.6 by adding a new section 303.6(C)(4) to require states to have “procedures ensuring that enforcement activity in civil contempt proceedings takes into consideration the subsistence needs of the noncustodial parent, and ensures that a purge amount the noncustodial parent must pay in order to avoid incarceration takes into consideration actual earnings and income and the subsistence needs of the noncustodial parent. A purge amount must be based upon a written evidentiary finding that the noncustodial parent has the actual means to pay the amount from his or her current income or assets.”
This proposal in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. _, 131 S Ct. at 2507 (2011), which noted that civil contempt proceedings must assure a ‘‘fundamentally fair determination . . .whether the supporting parent is able to comply with the support order.”
It is difficult to know what impact, if any, this proposed language will have on court operations. On one hand it may lead to longer hearings in civil contempt cases brought by the IV-D agency, but on the other hand it may lead to the IV-D agency filing fewer civil contempt actions.
(Richard Notes: Turner Rides Again.)
There are also sections on the following:
Parenting Time Orders
Child Support Guidelines
Collection and Distribution of Non IV-D Income Withholding Payments
Other Proposed Regulatory Changes with No Impact on Court operations
And, a conclusion.