As I hope most of you know, two thirds of eligible state costs incurred for the establishment and enforcement of child support obligations are reimbursable by HHS. There is no cap on the total amount, but expenditures must be pursuant to an approved state plan and meet other requirements.
Many states have taken advantage of this funding availability to establish extensive networks of self-help services, thereby both improving the efficiency of the overall child support enforcement program, and helping lay the foundation for broader self-help capacity in the future. However, some states have been reluctant to proceed down this path because of anxiety as to a perceived lack of clarity in the scope of services covered, specifically whether self-help and educational services are reimbursable under the formula.
The very good news is that as part of a massive largely technical rulemaking, that becomes effective on Jan 19, 2017, clears up this uncertainly, as described below in the language from the Federal Register, at printed page 93500, issued today December 20, 2016 (bold added):
Section 304.20(b)(2) clarifies that FFP [Federal Financial Participation] is available for services and activities for the establishment of paternity including, but not limited to the specific activities listed in paragraph (b)(2). The rule adds educational and outreach activities to § 304.20(b)(2)(vii) to explain that FFP is available for IV-D agencies to educate the public and to develop and disseminate information on voluntary paternity establishment.
In accordance with the requirement in section 454(23) of the Act to regularly and frequently publicize the availability of child support enforcement services, including voluntary paternity services, paragraph (b)(3) clarifies that FFP is available for services and activities for the establishment and enforcement of support obligations including, but not limited to the specific activities listed in paragraph (b)(3). The rule adds allowable services and activities under paragraph (b)(3) related to the establishment and enforcement of support obligations. A new paragraph (b)(3)(v) allows FFP for bus fare or other minor transportation expenses to allow participation by parents in child support proceedings and related activities such as genetic testing appointments. We redesignated the former § 304.20(b)(3)(v) as § 304.20(b)(3)(vii).
In addition, new paragraph (b)(3)(vi) recognizes that FFP is available to increase pro se access to adjudicative and alternative dispute resolution processes in IV-D cases related to the provision of child support services. We added a clarification in the final rule that this paragraph only applies when the expenses are related to the provision of child support services.
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Finally, we added a new paragraph (b)(12) to allow FFP for the educational and outreach activities intended to inform the public, parents and family members, and young people who are not yet parents about the Child Support Enforcement program, responsible parenting and co-parenting, family budgeting, and other financial consequences of raising children when the parents are not married to each other.
The package of changes as a whole is described in the Federal Register as follows:
This final rule makes changes to strengthen the Child Support Enforcement program and update current practices in order to increase regular, on-time payments to all families, increase the number of noncustodial parents working and supporting their children, and reduce the accumulation of unpaid child support arrears. These changes remove regulatory barriers to cost-effective approaches for improving enforcement consistent with the current knowledge and practices in the field, and informed by many successful state-led innovations. In addition, given that almost three-fourths of child support payments are collected by employers through income withholding, this rule standardizes and streamlines payment processing so that employers are not unduly burdened by this otherwise highly effective support enforcement tool. The rule also removes outdated barriers to electronic communication and document management, updating existing child support regulations, which frequently limit methods of storing or communicating information to a written or paper format. Finally, the rule updates the program to reflect the recent Supreme Court decision in Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. __, 131 S Ct. 2507 (2011).
Regular readers will not be surprise to learn that in due course, I will post an additional comment on the Turner aspects of the Regulations.
The key point, for now, is that the path for use of two thirds reimbursement of child support establishment and enforcement costs will now be unquestioned effective January 19, 2017 (unless intervening events will have caused otherwise), provided the other requirement of law are met. That both child support enforcement and self-help access services enjoy broad non-partisan support, as evinced by the unanimously passed Conference of Chief Justices Resolution, make such an intervening event far less likely.)
The Self-Represented Litigation Network has, with funding from the State Justice Institute, a detailed manual describing how to take advantage of this long term funding opportunity. (It should be noted that these rule changes may make some changes in the detail described in that prior manual, but those changes are likely to have minor effect. Checking the law is advised.)
The citations above are to 45 CFR. The Federal Register citation of the Notice is 81 FR 93492.