SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – First Lady Patti Blagojevich announced today that the state collected a record amount of child support money in Fiscal Year 2004, taking in almost $90 million more than the previous year. She also announced that her husband today is signing into law House Bill 4310, legislation designed to make it easier to make child support payments by allowing non-custodial parents to have payments automatically deducted from their bank accounts.
Standing with Barry Maram, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA), First Lady Blagojevich said that the Division of Child Support Enforcement collected $950.1 million in FY 2004, which ended June 30. The 10.4 percent increase in total collections exceeded the agency’s target of $922 million by $27.2 million. The state collected $860.5 million in all of FY 2003.
“As the mother of two daughters, I know what it takes to raise a child. It takes love, and patience, and time, and attention – and more patience. And it takes money. Children need a safe, secure place to live. They need nutritious food. They need clothes, and shoes, and school supplies. They need to see the doctor and the dentist. They need books to read, and toys to play with. All those things cost money,” said the First Lady.
“Most parents understand that, and they do their very best to meet those obligations. But when some parents choose to ignore their responsibility to their children – the State of Illinois is ready and willing to step in and take action,” she added. “Now, I am proud to announce a legislative advance that will help to make child support collection simpler and faster for many families in Illinois. Today, my husband is signing House Bill 4310.”
The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago), requires IDPA to create a child support enforcement debit authorization form that can be used by self-employed non-custodial parents to have their child support payments automatically deducted from their bank accounts. The new mechanism will take effect in six months.
Department officials attributed the improved collections to several factors: the high priority placed on the program by the Governor; an aggressive crackdown on deadbeat parents symbolized by the launch of a new Web site; the vast improvement in the state’s child support database that was underscored by the federal certification of the system in December; and the successful first year of the new State Disbursement Unit (SDU), which was transferred to a private vendor on July 1, 2003, at a savings of $9 million a year.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the Division of Child Support Enforcement has turned the corner,” said IDPA Director Barry Maram. “We’re sending a very strong message that if you don’t meet your child support obligations, we’re coming after you with all of the high tech tools at our disposal.”
Last November, IDPA unveiled a new Deadbeat Parents Web site featuring some of the state’s most egregious child support scofflaws. The site - http://www.ilchildsupport.com/deadbeats/
- runs pictures of delinquent parents who owe more than $5,000 in past due support and have made no payments in over 90 days. Cases are only featured with the consent of the custodial parent. The site has generated over $100,000 in payments and numerous tips regarding the whereabouts of non-custodial parents.
In December, Illinois received validation of its efforts to upgrade its child support system when it became the 28th state in the nation to achieve federal certification for its KIDS database, the high tech engine that drives every facet of the child support enforcement process. The database keeps track of all relevant information for the 730,000 child support cases in Illinois and is now capable of automatically serving income withholding orders on employers.
In awarding the federal certification earlier this year, Dr. Sherri Heller, Commissioner of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement and the top child support official in the nation, said: “This is a program that - bottom line results - is on the move and it shows in the data I see in Washington,”
One illustration of how the database upgrade lead to better results is the 40 percent increase in collections in FY 2004 by the Division’s Collection and Asset Recovery Unit. The unit employs an aggressive approach to imposing liens on real and personal property. It is on track to collect $2 million more in FY 2004, seizing more than $7 million in delinquent child support payments.
A second collections area that recorded dramatic gains was the Passport Denial Program, run in conjunction with the U.S. State Department. It bars non-custodial parents who owe more than $5,000 from renewing their passport or obtaining a new one. The program more than doubled its income in FY 2004, taking in $562,000, up more than 156 percent from FY 2003.
“The improved performance is directly tied to enhanced automation and a commitment to seeking out new cutting edge enforcement techniques,” said Child Support Enforcement Administrator Lonnie Nasatir.
Child support officials said that another major factor behind the positive results in FY 2004 was the successful first year of the new SDU, which was seamlessly transferred to an outside vendor, ACS State & Local Solutions on July 1, 2003. Thanks to months of preparation, the handoff was carried off without a hitch, in contrast to the process in 1999.
The new SDU uses the latest in high tech data processing equipment to process half a million checks each month, of which 99.97% are turned around in the federally required two business days. In addition, the unit installed an automated voice response system and an interactive Web site that allow customers to retrieve payment information 24-hours-a-day, seven days-a-week. The new operation saves taxpayers $9 million a year.
“As you all know, bringing up a child is a huge responsibility. It’s even more challenging for the many single parents who are struggling to make it on their own,” said the First Lady.
“Today, thanks to the hard work of the Division of Child Support Enforcement and the State of Illinois, hundreds of thousands of parents around Illinois are getting the financial support they need – to help their children grow up happy, healthy and strong.”