Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. I. Intensively Working a Random Sample of the CSE Caseload


In three sites (Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee), local CSE staff started with a randomly

Exhibit drawn list of NCPs from their CSE caseload who appeared to be eligible for PFS. Cases in this group were slated for enhanced CSE: local staff were asked to make special efforts to review the status of each case, locate the NCP and serve him with legal notice of a hearing, hold the review of the case, determine current employment status and employability, determine current support order and payment status, and identify appropriate cases for possible referral to PFS. Thus, the information from these sites illustrates what happens when local CSE programs aggressively work a random sample of welfare-related CSE cases in which the NCPs have an address in the county on file and payments are not current.

In these three sites, local staff determined that between 8 and 24 percent of the cases on the enhanced enforcement lists were appropriate for referral to PFS during approximately two years of follow-up efforts. Details on this effort are presented later in this report, but data from Montgomery County, Ohio (the middle site in the range), and Kent County, Michigan (the high end of the range), illustrate the difficulties and successes encountered in this enforcement effort, as shown in Exhibit 3.

  • Location problems. Local CSE staff were unable to make contact with slightly over 20 percent of the NCPs and/or get them to attend a hearing. In Kent County, this was primarily because of difficulties in locating and serving them with legally sufficient notice of the hearing. In Montgomery County, it was a mix of inability to serve and nonappearance at the hearing.
  • Discovery of previously unreported employment or resources. In approximately 25 percent of the cases, NCPs either reported a job previously unknown to the CSE agency (for which an income deduction order was possible) or otherwise made child support payments without any referral to PFS. This smokeout of previously unreported resources does not automatically produce increased support payments, for reasons discussed later in this report, but calculations by site staff suggest that the resulting payments have been substantial.
  • Identification of cases appropriate for PFS referral. In the two counties, 20 percent (Montgomery) and 25 percent (Kent) of the NCPs attended the review hearing and were identified as appropriate for PFS referral, thus meeting all the eligibility grounds for the program. As mentioned earlier in this report, these NCPs tend to have serious barriers to employment (lack of education credentials, unstable work history, high rates of criminal arrests, and so on), reinforcing both the need for the PFS option for a portion of the caseload and the challenge for agencies providing program services.
  • Identification of cases inappropriate for PFS referrals. In approximately 25 percent of the cases, the NCPs turned out to be inappropriate for PFS for reasons previously unknown to the CSE agency. Some NCPs (1 in 3, or 1 in 12 cases overall) were disabled and receiving SSI, Veterans, or Social Security disability payments; thus they should not have been facing a current child support obligation. Others no longer faced a current child support obligation because they were living with the CP and/or child or the child was legally emancipated. Some NCPs were ineligible for the program because they were incarcerated and thus unable to work. The remaining NCPs in this category either lived outside the county or state (and thus could not be served in the PFS program), were deceased, or had a support order in which there were legal procedural problems in enforcement.

Exhibit 3

Resolution of Enhanced Enforcement Group Cases in Two Parents' Fair Share Sites

ChartObject Kent County, Michigan

ChartObject Montgomery County, Ohio

Source: MDRC calculations from enhanced-group logs completed by local Child Support Enforcement (CSE) staff.