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Child Support Update

Q: I read that the Attorney General’s Office had another record-breaking year for child support collections. Is this true?

A: During the last state fiscal year (SFY) the Child Support Division collected more than $1.2 billion for the first time in the history of the Texas child support program. The $1,230,174,806 collected during fiscal year that ended August 31 represents a 63 percent increase over the $757 million collected in 1998, the last year before I assumed office.

The increase of $201 million over last year’s collections of $1.029 billion is the largest year-to-year dollar increase in child support collections and follows the previous year’s record increase of $161 million.

The Office of the Attorney General is responsible for collecting court-ordered child support in Texas. Child support services are provided to current or former recipients of public assistance and to any others who apply for our services. When I became Attorney General in January 1999, my top priority was increasing the amount of child support collected for the 1.2 million children on our caseload.

I inherited a child support program that was dysfunctional and suffering from years of neglect. In less than three years, I am happy to report that things are on the right track and more children than ever are receiving the financial support they need and deserve.

The Child Support Division uses the latest enforcement tools to collect child support payments. Innovative measures used to make non-supporting parents live up to their court-ordered responsibilities include income withholding, interception of income tax returns and license suspension.

The Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) program is the newest enforcement tool for collecting child support. In December 2000, we began matching information on delinquent child support non-custodial parents with a database of depositors supplied by financial institutions. When a match occurs, this new enforcement remedy allows my office to file a lien on the delinquent parent’s financial account. In fiscal year 2001, we filed 771 FIDM liens and collected more than $4 million. The largest lump sum collected was $136,250.

We differentiate between “dead beat” and “dead broke” parents. Non-custodial parents who lack the means to earn a living and pay child support are dead broke. We will refer cooperative “dead broke” parents to job training and employment referral programs. In SFY 2001, Child Support staff referred nearly 3,800 non-custodial parents to local workforce development boards for assistance.

“Dead beat” parents have the financial resources to take responsibility for their children but refuse to do so. Parents who steadfastly refuse to meet their court-ordered child support obligations face stiff consequences. License suspension filings went from 2,608 in 2000 to 4,753 in 2001–an increase of 82 percent. The number of dead beat parents put in jail increased from 1,486 in SFY 2000 to 1,654 in SFY 2001.

Providing excellent customer service is another top priority for my administration. When I assumed office in January 1999, the Child Support Division operated a single statewide customer service call center. All calls to the call centers and field offices were routed to the same place, creating a huge backlog.

In a typical month, only 14 percent of the 800,000 calls we received were answered. With our new system, we answer 96 percent of the calls in less than 30 seconds.

Another major customer service initiative is the creation of a Child Support Interactive Web site located on the Office of the Attorney General Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us. The public can access the site to obtain information about the child support program, apply for services and access case-specific information.

In only one year, monthly hits to the Web site have increased from 69,300 in August 2000 to 196,403 in August 2001. The Child Support Division was named an “Honors Program Laureate” by Computerworld magazine its for leadership in the use of the Internet by a government agency.

When I became attorney general, child support was on life support. Today the Texas child support program is in better health than it has ever been. The Office of the Attorney General will strive for continued improvement in the areas of child support collections, customer service and cost-effective operations.