California Child Support Assurance Legislation

August 01, 1997 | Paula Roberts

As part of its recently enacted welfare reform legislation, California authorized the creation of up to three (3) Child Support Assurance (CSA) demonstration projects. In these projects, eligible children in families participating in the state's welfare program (CalWORKS ) whose custodial parent has earnings and a child support order would have the option to receive a guaranteed monthly child support payment in lieu of welfare. One of the demonstration projects must be substantially like the New York Child Assistance Program (CAP). The other two can use the CAP model or take a different approach. Below is an outline of the legislation. (AB 1542, art. 5 sections 18241-18247)

Legislative Intent

The intent of the legislature is to test the child support assurance concept as an alternative to welfare for families with earnings and child support orders. To conduct this test, the state's Department of Social Services is authorized to approve and evaluate up to three (3) CSA demonstration projects.

Design of the Projects

The legislation requires that the demonstration projects be consistent with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 ( the welfare reform law passed by Congress last year), maximize cost effectiveness, and lift children out of poverty. The projects are to be designed to encourage custodial parents to be employed and noncustodial parents to financially support their children. Moreover, since funds for the demonstration projects will come from those appropriated for CalWORKS, the eligibility conditions specified in the federal welfare reform law (i.e., time limits, work requirements, child support assignment and cooperation) may also have to be taken into account in the design of any demonstration project.

The counties do have some flexibility as to the size and scope of their demonstration project. The upper limit for the number of participants is five (5) percent of the county's CalWORKS caseload or eight thousand (8,000) persons, whichever is greater.

At least one of the approved demonstration projects must be substantially like the New York CAP program. To make this clear, the legislation specifies that one of the demonstration projects incorporate the following concepts which reflect the CAP design:

  • the family contains a child who resides in the county and is under age 18 (19 if enrolled in high school).
  • the custodial parent is employed and the noncustodial parent lives in the United States or (if not living in the United States) is subject to service of process by a state or territory of the United States.
  • at the time it applies to participate in the program, the family is either eligible for or actually receiving CalWORKS benefits.
  • the custodial parent has assigned the child's support rights to the state; has established paternity and obtained a child support order; and is using the services of the state IVD program to enforce that order .
  • the custodial parent is cooperating in the pursuit of child support for the child. This includes providing relevant information as requested by the county and appearing at interviews, conferences, hearings or legal proceedings if notified in advance and not prevented from attendance by illnesses or emergency. (There is an exception to this cooperation requirement for domestic violence victims.)
  • the family has opted to participate in the CSA demonstration project instead of receiving CalWORKS benefits.
  • the child support assurance amount is $250 per month for the first eligible child, $125 per month for the second eligible child, and $65 per month for each subsequent eligible child.
  • in any month the child receives the greater of the child support paid by the noncustodial parent or the child support assurance amount. If the custodial parent pays a sum equal to or more than the assurance amount, that money goes to the child. If the noncustodial parent pays a sum less than the assured amount, the child gets the full assurance payment and the county retains the child support paid (if any) and uses it to reimburse itself for the assured payment. The rest of the assured payment comes from CalWORKS funds.
  • eligibility for the assured child support payment ceases when the family's income exceeds 150 percent of the poverty line. A 90 percent earned income disregard applies to family income below the federal poverty line. For income between 100 and 150 percent of poverty the disregard is gradually decreased until the assured benefit reaches zero.
  • if the family opts to participate in the CSA demonstration and is eligible to receive Medicaid (Medi-Cal) and/or subsidized child care, participation in the CSA demonstration project does not affect this eligibility.

Role of the Counties

An interested County Board of Supervisors will apply to the state Department of Social Services (DSS) for permission to run a demonstration project. The proposed project must conform to the CAP-like specifications described above or-- once a CAP-like model has been approved -- a different design as specified by the county. Funding for the CSA benefit will come from the county's TANF allocation. Funding for administrative costs will come from appropriated funds and will be based on projected county costs and caseloads.

Role of the State DSS

DSS has the authority to approve up to three demonstration projects. One of the approved projects must fit the CAP model criteria described above. The others can be different (e.g., have different eligibility criteria or assurance amounts) or they can use the CAP model. If more than one county submits a CAP model project, DSS can approve up to three such projects if each of the counties involved has different demographics .

DSS will also be responsible for development of a research design to use in evaluating the county CSA demonstration projects. The evaluation must consider the impact of the CSA program on work participation rates of custodial parents, CalWORKS participation rates and costs, paternity and child support order establishment, and any other relevant information DSS requires.

DSS will also be responsible for issuing regulations relative to the program by July 1, 1998.

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