“Lifting Families Out of Poverty”
By Marie Girulat, Director, San Bernardino County DCSS
This year the National Child Support Enforcement Association (NCSEA) held its annual Policy Forum once again in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, February 7-9, 2019. The theme for this year’s conference “Lifting Families out of Poverty” resonated throughout each of the plenary sessions and workshops. Over 500 representatives from around the country and the international and tribal child support communities gathered to discuss how we can continue to shape the conversation about child support as an anti-poverty program.
OCSE Commissioner Scott Lekan, kicked off the first plenary of the forum with thought provoking questions on how we may do things better. He suggested that perhaps we could do things differently than we have done before to strive to obtain reliable support payments for families. He asked questions to spark thoughts such as “Could current support be emphasized more or differently? Should we be a means-tested program? and “Should we refocus on our historical purpose: Focus on those who are in poverty”.
Workshops throughout the conference expanded on the theme. One workshop asked, are performance measures incentivizing us correctly? Should there be new or different performance measures such as medical support, total government savings, or customer service performance measures to help the program reach the goal of lifting families out of poverty and give them a better future?
From the federal level, Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, spoke to the group about the importance being placed at the federal level on cross agency collaboration. She spoke of the federal effort Re-Imagine HHS where the goal is to put the person at the center and value human beings at all points. The Assistant Secretary asked the assembled group to query whether or not our customers whom we share with SNAP, Child Welfare and Child Care (among others) could benefit from a single case manager approach or at least a case liaison who helps them navigate the various agencies. Ms. Johnson’s inspiring message of “the more we can raise people up and out of poverty…let’s do it” resonated with the assembled group who work daily to lift families out of poverty.
The conference continued with sessions emphasizing statistics and data that help paint the picture of poverty and its relation to child support. Only 50% of people born in 1980 earn more than their parents, the median income of single mother families is $27,000, in 2017 one million people were lifted out of poverty due to child support received while 200,000 went in to poverty due to child support paid. Particular emphasis was placed on the fact that child support is the most cost-effective program in lifting kids out of poverty. This data will surely be used as policy around poverty and child support continues to be shaped.
As an attendee of the 2019 Policy Forum, I know that I walked away with many questions to think about, a variety of new ideas, and most importantly thought-provoking information that I will take back to my agency to ask how can we make a difference? How can we continue to move the child support program forward? As the child support community, with a deeper understanding of the interrelation of poverty and child support, how can we make policy and, in some instances, legislative changes that support the vision of the program, but more importantly support the families that we are committed to serve?