Supplemental Security Income:

Increased Receipt and Reporting of Child Support Could Reduce Payments

HEHS-99-11: Published: Jan 12, 1999. Publicly Released: Jan 12, 1999.

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GAO provided information on: (1) opportunities for increasing the number of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) single-parent families receiving child support and for improving the reporting of such support to the Social Security Administration (SSA); (2) the potential for reducing SSI payments by increasing the extent to which SSI children in single-parent families are served by the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program and have support collected for them and the extent to which support collected by CSE programs is reported by custodial parents to SSA.

GAO noted that: (1) SSI benefits could be reduced and single-parent families' incomes increased if more children on SSI received CSE services; (2) the Florida, New York, and Texas CSE programs provided services to almost 45,000 SSI children in single-parent families in those states and collected child support for more than one-quarter of those served; (3) however, more than 52,000 other SSI children in single-parent families in those states did not receive CSE services; (4) GAO estimates that if their parents had been required to cooperate with CSE services, annual SSI benefits to these children would have been reduced by about $4.2 million, while the net annual income (considering the child support and the resulting adjustments to the SSI benefits) of the SSI single-parent families would have been increased by $2.6 million; (5) these potential benefit reductions would be offset by the costs for SSA to administer a child support cooperation requirement and by the costs, which could be considerable, for CSE programs to provide services; (6) even though savings to the government are not guaranteed, increasing the number of SSI children receiving CSE services would help promote parental responsibility and increase the incomes of single parents, helping them to achieve and maintain economic independence and reducing their dependence on public assistance; (7) among the SSI children in single-parent families for whom the three states' CSE programs collected support, GAO found strong evidence that many parents had not reported the income to SSA as they were required to do; (8) the Florida, New York, and Texas CSE programs collected support for 15,427 SSI children--12,841 living in those states and an additional 2,586 SSI children living in other states; (9) for 68 percent of these children, SSI records did not contain a report of child support income, indicating that their parents did not report the income to SSA; (10) GAO estimates that, in these three states, SSA overpaid $7.7 million in annual SSI benefits because this unreported support was not considered in calculating children's SSI benefits; and (11) these overpayments could be minimized in the future if SSA and CSE established a routine method of exchanging information on SSI recipients and child support collections.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of September 2005, Congress has not adopted this provision and the key authorizing committees do not have it under consideration.

    Matter: Congress may want to amend the Social Security Act to require that all single parents applying for or receiving SSI benefits on behalf of children under age 18 be required to cooperate with CSE services, unless they have good cause not to do so. Congress also will need to consider how best to enforce such a requirement.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) took steps to implement a cost-effective method to ensure that child support collection data for children receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As part of a broad effort to increase its access to all forms of data, including child support data, SSA submitted a proposal to the Congress, enacted as part of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, which deems SSA's privacy standards sufficient to meet privacy concerns related to data access. This helps ensure SSA's access to some child support data sources, although it does not offer access to states' automated child support enforcement systems. Although SSA cannot access these state systems, SSA and the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) worked together to grant SSA real-time query access to other data--the National Directory of New Hires--which facilitates determining SSI eligibility. SSA also engaged in discussions with OCSE about potential sources of child support data, the usefulness of the data to determine families' actual receipt of child support, and whether these sources would prove cost effective to pursue. In addition, SSA submitted a proposal to OMB that would allow SSA access to the Federal Case Registry of Child Support Orders. However, it was ultimately determined that using this source would not be a cost effective method because too much follow-up work would be required to clearly determine the support payment amounts that would be used to offset SSI benefits.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should take steps to implement a cost-effective method for ensuring that data on CSE collections for children receiving SSI are made available to SSA and used in making eligibility determinations. This may include seeking legislative changes to allow SSA access to states' data on child support collections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took steps to implement a cost-effective method to ensure that child support enforcement collection data for children receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) was made available to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and was used to determine eligibility. HHS' Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) engaged in discussions with SSA about potential sources of child support data, the usefulness of the data to determine families' actual receipt of child support, and whether these sources would prove cost-effective to pursue. Although access to states' automated child support payment records by SSA is not feasible, OCSE and SSA worked together to grant SSA real-time query access to other data--the National Directory of New Hires--which facilitates determining SSI eligibility. OCSE also worked with SSA to determine the feasibility of access to the Federal Case Registry of Child Support Orders, but concluded it would not be cost effective because it provided data only on when a support order was in place. Considerable effort would be needed to determine whether an actual payment--which would offset SSI payments--had been made to an individual.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should take steps to implement a cost-effective method for ensuring that data on CSE collections for children receiving SSI are made available to SSA and used in making eligibility determinations. This may include seeking legislative changes to allow SSA access to states' data on child support collections.

    Agency Affected: Congress

 

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