Panel Paper: Evaluating Near-Universal Child Support Enforcement: The Texas Integrated Child Support System (ICSS)

Friday, November 4, 2016 : 2:30 PM
Fairchild East (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel Schroeder1,2 and Ashweeta Patnaik2, (1)University of Texas, Austin, (2)University of Texas at Austin

For most of the 40 year history of the Federal-State child support enforcement (CSE) system, also known as the IV-D system, families receiving cash welfare were required to cooperate with efforts to collect child support, and other families could get child support assistance if they applied.  About 20 years ago, Texas argued that the application requirement was a barrier to collection of child support, and was granted a waiver in certain counties of the requirement for written application for IV-D services.  Under the Integrated Child Support System (ICSS) that has been rolled out county-by-county since then, families are enrolled in IV-D services automatically, but are given the choice of opting out of the CSE system.  It was hoped that this simple change in the default, from being required to opt in to being allowed to opt out, would bring families into the caseload at an earlier point in time, allowing collections to be enforced well before their cases evolved into difficult cases with accumulating arrears.  Using a comprehensive study design ranging from random assignment in El Paso, to a natural experiment in Harris County (Houston), to pre-post comparison site designs in thirteen other counties, RMC researchers evaluated the impacts of ICSS on the child support caseload and outcomes.  The evaluation utilized OAG administrative records data for determining child support case characteristics, child support obligations, collections, and enforcement actions.  This was supplemented with Unemployment Insurance (UI) quarterly wage records, public assistance administrative records, U.S. Census data, and survey data from some customers who “opt-out.”  Results indicated that less than 8% of new cases opted out of CSE, and that those who opted out tended to be more affluent.  Even so, across an entire caseload created under ICSS, child support collections frequency increased dramatically, while average amounts collected increased as well.  Although public assistance effects were mixed, positive employment and earnings effects were also seen.  Finally, as expected, ICSS clearly yielded lower levels of arrears several years after cases were opened.  Some of these effects must be attributed to changes in the composition of the caseload, but some are no doubt due to early and consistent enforcement of child support obligations.  These results indicate that a child support caseload formed under conditions of automatic enrollment, with optional dis-enrollment, yields better child support collection and lesser accumulation of arrears, as compared to the predominant system in which active steps must be taken to enroll.  This is referred to as a near-universal child support enforcement system, in that it strives for universality but people can still opt-out.  In conclusion, this simple policy switch that changes the default enrollment behavior leads to a system in which more child support is collected for more families, and less child support debt is created down the road.  It is recommended that the waiver be extended indefinitely, thus allowing Texas to continue expanding its ICSS system, and that other states and localities be allowed to experiment with similar near-universal child support systems so that families nationwide can benefit.

Full Paper: