A shared service for child support enforcement?
If there's an overarching theme in the Trump administration budget's domestic policy proposals, it's to cut federal spending and push control down to the state level. The Child Support Technology Fund, however, would take a notably different approach.
The White House and Department of Health and Human Services want $63 million in fiscal year 2019 to create the fund, which HHS would use to purchase a new IT system for monitoring and enforcing child support payments at the state level. That system would then be made available to state and territorial governments, replacing the current practice of HHS subsidizing states' own modernization efforts.
According to the budget's summary of "major savings and reforms," those one-off modernization efforts cost an average of $120 million each, with the federal government reimbursing 66 percent of the costs. Over the past five years, HHS has provided roughly $1 billion in such reimbursements, an agency spokesperson said.
Investing in a single shared service would allow HHS "to avoid reimbursing up to 54 times over the costs associated with building new State systems" and save nearly $800 million over 10 years, the proposal states.
States have struggled to develop effective child support collection and enforcement systems for more than two decades, since Congress required their creation with the 1995 Family Support Act. And despite federal funding, some upgrade efforts have dragged on for years or been canceled outright. Indiana, for example, last year gave up on a replacement for its Indiana Support Enforcement Tracking System after eight years of development. According to the Indiana Lawyer website, the Indiana Department of Child Services has warned that ISETS is "built on dying technology" and could crash catastrophically.
The president's budget does not specify how quickly the HHS-purchased system could be brought online, whether it would be a hosted solution or who would be responsible for maintenance or upgrades. HHS has done preliminary reviews of "several new potential systems," the agency spokesperson told GCN, but no particular state system is being used as a model.
Note: This article was updated on Feb. 13 to add comments from HHS officials.
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.