Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Improving Child Support Enforcement for Children Receiving SSI

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Improving Child Support Enforcement for Children Receiving SSI

Article excerpt

This article examines child support provisions in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and other means-tested programs. It also discusses policy options for improving receipt of child support for children receiving SSI and ways that SSA could gain better access to child support data.

Summary

Less than half of all children who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and live in a single-parent home receive child support services. Although filing for child support is a condition of eligibility for income assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), it is not a condition of eligibility for SSI benefits.

Requiring single custodial parents applying for SSI on behalf of their children to pursue child support payments might result in more children on SSI receiving child support, and since the Social Security Administration (SSA) excludes one-third of child support when determining benefit amounts, increased receipt of child support would enhance the financial well-being of SSI children. Improving access to data on child support would enhance the integrity of the SSI program by reducing overpayments to children receiving child support. This article looks at the child support provisions in SSI and other means-tested programs and discusses policy options for improving receipt of child support and access to related data.

Requiring cooperation with child support enforcement agencies would be consistent with the philosophy that the SSI program should serve as a program of last resort. Whenever possible, both parents should take primary responsibility for their children. While such a requirement has the potential to improve the financial status of children receiving SSI, factors such as their low-income status and their involvement with the TANF program raise questions about how much those children will actually benefit from such a requirement. Even if many additional children do not receive child support, the requirement demonstrates SSA's dedication to the stewardship of the SSI program. However, if custodial parents fail to comply with the requirement, children may be worse off as a result of the requirement. SSA should carefully pursue a requirement to induce cooperation while protecting children to the greatest extent possible.

Improving access to child support data would enhance the integrity of the SSI program by reducing overpayments to children receiving child support. Given the reality of limited administrative resources as well as the apparent difficulties of gaining access to the needed child support data, SSA must decide which data matches to pursue and which requirements enhance the program enough to justify the additional resources.

Although the options discussed in this article may be chosen independently, there are important interactions to consider. For example, although a requirement to pursue support might result in more children receiving child support, SSA would still rely on parents to report that income unless it was able to gain better access to child support data. Implementing the option to require cooperation with child support enforcement (CSE) agencies could improve verification of income from child support if field offices developed better communication with local CSE offices. However, by itself, it would not have as great an effect on overpayments as would having direct access to child support data.

In a 1999 report, the General Accounting Office acknowledged that the potential benefit reductions would be offset by the cost for SSA to administer a child support cooperation requirement and by the costs to the CSE programs to provide services. The report suggested that the goals of promoting parental responsibility and increasing the income of children receiving SSI should be pursued despite the costs. Requiring cooperation may increase administrative costs by $6 million over 5 years and may result in program savings. …

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