When Governor Gray Davis signed AB 196 into law, he created a new state agency in charge of centralizing the collection and enforcement of child support in California. This was done in an effort to drastically improve the statewide average collection rate of under 20 percent, one of the worst in the nation. The law puts the newly created Department of Child Support Services on a fast track to full implementation to the new system by January 2003.
The law removes the power of 58 country district attorneys, who for 25 years have had almost complete autonomy in deciding how to collect unpaid support. The district attorneys have operated with different forms, procedures and priorities.
The current complex child support system involves the State Department of Social Services, Attorney Generals Office, Franchise Tax Board, Employment Development Department, Department of Motor Vehicles and California’s 58 county district attorney offices. Lack of coordination and integration between these agencies was seen as the major impediment in getting support to the children of this state. The new Department of Child Support Services will be the single agency to administer the state plan to secure child, spousal support, medical support and determine paternity. It will develop uniform policies, procedures, and forms to be employed statewide by all local child support agencies. It will administer all services and perform all functions necessary to establish, collect and distribute child support.
Governor Davis will soon appoint a director for the new agency who will oversee the massive transition. The director will be responsible for implementing and managing the single statewide automated child support system that will comply with state and federal requirements. The director will have direct management and control of local child support agencies. No other local or state agency shall have such authority.
In drafting the law, the legislature felt that the state would benefit by keeping local counties responsible for collecting support. To minimize disruption of services the law creates local child support agencies that will keep the current existing staff and facilities of the family support division of the district attorney offices. The local agencies will continue to have authority to secure and enforce obligations by administering wage withholding, enforcing liens, denying licenses and referring cases to the District Attorney’s office for criminal prosecution. Managers of the local agencies shall be responsible for reporting to and responding to the director on all aspects of the child support program.
The new law will give the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) greater authority in the enforcement and collection of child support delinquencies. The local agencies will be transferring all child support delinquencies directly to the FTB for collection. The FTB will be authorized to attach bank accounts , wages and tax refunds. It is anticipated that an additional 400,000 delinquent accounts will be transferred to the FTB, adding on to its current level of collecting from over 500,000 delinquent accounts. The local agency may refer obligations that are not delinquent to the FTB.
The new law will require local agencies to send The Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) information about support orders and delinquencies so that it can intercept benefits.
District Attorney’s have vowed to cooperate with the transition process, however, many have expressed concern that the state takeover will take away county funds. Gil Garcetti, Los Angeles County District Attorney, is anxious to make the transition as quickly as possible. Los Angeles may be the first county to convert to state control because it has one of the worst collections rates in the state and the nation.
California is already under the gun for missing the October 1, 1997 deadline imposed by the federal government via the Federal Family Support Act of 1988. This law required there be a single state agency for Child Support Enforcement and a centralized computer system. Monetary penalties imposed by the federal government will continue until California is in full compliance. The statutory deadline is January 1, 2003.