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Highlights

In fiscal year 2009, the child support enforcement (CSE) program collected about $26 billion in child support payments from noncustodial parents on behalf of more than 17 million children. The CSE program is run by states and overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). States receive federal performance incentive payments and a federal match on both state CSE funds and, except for fiscal year 2008, on the incentive payments, which must be reinvested into the program. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) eliminated this incentive match beginning in 2008, but the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 temporarily reinstated it for 2 years. DRA also gave states the option to give more child support collections to families receiving public assistance--the "family first" policy--rather than using it to reimburse government public assistance costs. GAO examined (1) how CSE collections and caseloads have changed in recent years, (2) how states have responded to federal funding changes, and (3) how states have responded to DRA's "family first" policy options. GAO reviewed laws, HHS policy documents, and CSE caseload, collections, and expenditure data and interviewed HHS officials, child support experts, and CSE officials in 10 states selected for variation in program size and geography. GAO is not making recommendations in this report. HHS generally agreed with the findings in this report.

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