Child Support in RI: Fixing the System

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


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A state rep is calling for reform of the child support system in Rhode Island, after a GoLocalProv report revealed that as much as $271 million in payments and interest is past due.

Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, D-Woonsocket, says the Office of Child Support Services should tie its electronic records in with other departments so it can better determine how much money is in arrears and be more effective in cracking down on parents who are delinquent on payments. “They all should be interconnected and that’s not the case right now,” Baldelli-Hunt (pictured below right) told GoLocalProv. “That’s a problem.”

She said she wants state employees to have all the tools they need to do their job. “I don’t want the state employees at the Office of Child Support Services to think I’m unhappy with them,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “I want them to have the tools they need to do their job effectively.”

Deceased parents still in the system?

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She said the issue first came to light when she proposed a bill in the last legislative session that would have required the state to publish a list of non-custodial parents who owe $2,500 or more in overdue child support payments. The bill ended up being held for further study after the Office of Child Support Services expressed concern that there might be some names on the list that don’t belong there. Baldelli-Hunt said she was specifically told that there might be some parents on there who are deceased.

The office could easily check its records for deceased parents if their system was directly tied into records at the Department of Health, according to Baldelli-Hunt. She said the office should also share information directly with other state agencies, such as the Department of Labor and Training and the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Sharon Santilli, an associate director at the Department of Human Services who oversees the child support program, said her office works closely with the state welfare program, Rhode Island Works. For parents and children in the program, a portion of child support payments go towards reimbursing the state. Santilli also said her office can also submit names of parents who are behind on payments to the Division of Motor Vehicles to have their driver’s license suspended. (Parents who are late on 90 days of payments face a suspended license.)

State taking steps to improve system

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“The Office of Child Support Services, in partnership with the Courts, law enforcement and other state and federal agencies, takes all measures possible under state and federal law to collect child support payments and interest,” said Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the department of Human Services. “The state has taken great measures to improve the system, employing new technology as well as manual checks to verify data.”

Santilli identified a number of other recent improvements that have been made in recent years. Those include the following:
• a new comprehensive Web site
• Rhode Island has become the host state for a consortium of 30 states that matches delinquent non-custodial parents against a single insurance database to collect past due payments
• an automated process for intercepting lottery winnings of delinquent non-custodial parents
• a debit card which parents can use to receive child support payments in a more timely fashion
• a number of enforcement tools—such as the suspension of licenses for delinquent non-custodial parents—have become automatic, so that custodial parents do not have to wait to request that the state enforce a child support order

The Office of Child Support Services collected $83 million in federal fiscal year 2010, according to Santilli.


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