Virginia meets child support mandate

Virginia has joined a handful of states that have complied with a federal welfare reform law requiring the development of computer systems that help track down parents who are not paying child support.

According to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, Virginia joins Maryland, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington in becoming compliant with the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

The goal is to develop a system that helps enforcement agencies cross-reference information from state databases to identify parents who are not keeping up with their child support payments. For example, someone might claim to be unemployed and unable to make payments. But his or her tax status, tracked by another agency, might show otherwise.

"We can send our information to the appropriate hiring directory and, in the span of about 48 hours, find out if a noncustodial parent has started working again," said Nick Young, director of child support enforcement for Virginia. "If they're not paying their child support, we can have a deduction automatically taken from their paycheck and sent to the parent and children who need it."

Virginia's enforcement system, which has been in place for five years, began paying off long before it was certified.

The commonwealth has seen a 75 percent increase in child support collections over the past five years, with a revenue of $391 million collected in the last fiscal year alone. Certification means that Virginia will continue to receive around $65 million in federal funds to run and improve its child support enforcement programs.

David Siegel, spokesman for the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, said that the numbers in Virginia point toward a little-known fact: child support enforcement is big business in America.

According to Siegel, child support enforcement efforts nationwide collected $18 billion last year, with 16 million open cases currently on the books. "The only way that we can keep up with the movement is through automation, and that's only possible through technology," Siegel said.

The Office of Child Support Enforcement began testing state systems in October 2000.

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