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Hatch, Grassley, Davis Release GAO Report on Child Support Enforcement Program

February 02, 2011

Today, Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), former Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Congressman Geoff Davis (R-KY), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means, released a report prepared at their request from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  The report, titled “Child Support Enforcement: Departures from Long-Term Trends in Sources of Collections and Caseload Reflect Recent Economic Conditions,” reviews how states responded to federal funding changes to the child support enforcement (CSE) program.

Specifically, the report tracked how states responded to a provision in the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005 that eliminated states’ ability to claim federal matching payments for spending federal child support incentive funds.  Prior to passage of the DRA, states had been able to “double dip” into federal funds.  In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama Administration allowed states to go back to “double dipping” for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. 

The GAO report found that, despite a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that the elimination of states’ ability to “double dip” would lower child support spending and collections, states actually increased total child support spending and collections in FY 2008.  Additionally, when States were once again permitted to “double dip” in FY 2009, according to GAO, “Total state and federal [Child Support Enforcement] CSE expenditures, adjusted for inflation, declined by 1.8 percent.”  Child support collections also declined in FY 2009 by 2.1 percent, according to GAO.

Senator Hatch said:  “Child support enforcement programs offer families who might otherwise have to go on welfare, the means to stay off of welfare and are therefore a key element of economic recovery and self-sufficiency. This report demonstrates that these common-sense, fiscally prudent provisions Congress included in the 2005 budget bill did not lead to the dire outcomes that some on the left predicted.”

Senator Grassley said:  “The change in the policy of giving extra federal money to states to encourage them to spend federal money hasn’t had the negative effects some people predicted. Child support enforcement and collections continued, and families received the money designated for them.  This shows state and federal governments can become more efficient with tax dollars and still accomplish their functions just as well as before, if not better.”

Chairman Davis said: “This report shows that child support enforcement, like many programs, is a two-way street.  States can and do make proper judgments about the right amount to invest to serve families in need.  GAO found that when Congress eliminated the double-dipping loophole, states increased their own contributions, and child support collections increased – the exact opposite of a decline in collections some had forecast.  And when the double-dipping loophole was restored in Democrats’ 2009 stimulus law, states just as quickly dropped their level of state effort, and funding and collections declined.”

The GAO report also noted that the child support caseload has changed in response to declining economic conditions.  In FY 2009, the number of families receiving child support enforcement services and public assistance increased for the first time in 10 years.