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The effects of COVID-19 on child support services – An increased urgency for improved reporting and processing capabilities

COVID-19 has led to furloughs, layoffs, and business closures, resulting in a spike in unemployment. This level of unemployment, the highest in decades, is expected to climb for months. The pandemic’s economic impacts have led to financial insecurity for many families across the country dependent on child support. Many noncustodial parents are falling out of compliance with support orders based on income they no longer have, resulting in the compounding effect of penalties for nonpayment. The impact of the increased need of custodial parents and the decreased compliance of noncustodial parents, in this constantly changing environment, has exacerbated issues that were already affecting the state and federal child support system. 

Pre-COVID, the process for employers to enter employee data used for wage garnishment was cumbersome. Given the fluidity of employment statuses and the variability of state laws and regulations, employer compliance was increasingly challenging. 

The pandemic has illuminated the need for a convenient, virtual, customer-centric way to communicate with child support program staff, track the status of modification requests and payment actions, and improve data reporting and data quality efficiencies. There is a need for process and technology modernization at both the state and federal levels. These systems need to rapidly evolve to deliver:

  • Modern, user-centric, intuitive technology tools that decrease burden and processing time of all program participants (parents, employers, and governments)
    Maintaining sluggish, siloed, and outdated legacy applications and infrastructure is a financial and technological risk to any organization, directly impacting how effectively the needs of children and their support are met. Current legacy systems and databases need to be modernized to effectively support and manage data efficiently and securely. System owners need to leverage an agile, collaborative approach to quickly enable data and system integration across trading partners (intra-state/tribal, interstate, and federal).
     
  • Improved case management
    The child support system is complex, requiring multiple entities to exchange high-quality, current data. The pandemic creates challenges in meeting with caseworkers and officials in-person, illustrating the need for an automated, contact-free virtual option to share messages, make payments, and track modification requests. With employment statuses in question around the country and financial security in flux, an improved case management system is needed to better manage support orders, to identify and engage custodial/noncustodial parities, and to reinforce behaviors across communication channels. 

Now more than ever, we need to bolster child support processes with a holistic approach by addressing all challenges that impact the system and families — both process and technology. Ultimately, we desire a system that will assist families by providing employment, job training, and case management services, particularly in this environment where families are hit with the double-blow of lost wages and lost support. We need systems and support structures that enable resources to be focused on those most in need during the most challenging times.