By Senator Alice Nitka, Windsor County, January 28, 2011
The VT Office of Child Support (OCS) handles 30,000 phone calls per month and offers customer service in person to approximately 3,000 persons per month. In Fiscal Year 2010, they collected 55 million dollars in child support. Of that amount, 68% or 37.5 million was collected through wage withholding. The money also included arrearages and the 1% per month that is charged on arrearage when one falls behind on payments.
OCS works to improve the financial lives of children by locating non-custodial parents, establishing parentage as well as establishing medical and child support obligations. They work for families who receive public assistance as well as for families who have no involvement with any public assistance system. Last year, they had 11,000 court “events”.
VT employers are playing a critical role in getting money to children from their employees. Forty-eight per cent of VT employers recently surveyed are dealing with out of state child support agencies as well as our VT agency. Those surveyed expressed an interest in alternative payment options such as electronic payments which would ease their burden. Presently, 34% of employers submit payments through electronic fund transfers. The remainder are using child support coupons to identify their employees. An employer is able to charge their employee $5 per month for the administrative cost.
In these difficult economic times with high unemployment, persons hours being reduced and the self employed struggling, many parents have been unable to meet their support obligations. When non-custodial parents find themselves in this position, it is very important that they file with the court re their change in circumstance. A change in their support order can only go back to the date of filing, not the date they became unemployed which might have occurred three months prior. Recently, a constituent told me he failed to file because he didn’t have the $75 filing fee. The court can and does waive the fee if the filer meets certain financial criteria. If one doesn’t file, the 12% surcharge per year starts to accumulate and it is very hard to pay this additional amount later. If a person has a stipulation to go with their petition and has met those requirements, the fee is $25.
Vermonters generally do well in meeting their support obligations. Non-custodial parents who have stable employment and a residence pay 90% or more of their payments. Generally, each month, 70% of parents are meeting their obligation but 30% goes unpaid adding to the $100,000,000 already on the books. There are those in OCS terms who are “unable” to pay and others who are “elusive”. Some “unables” are persons incarcerated, on public assistance or chronically unemployed. However, many of these persons do have nominal obligation orders ranging from one dollar to $145. The “elusives” are a more difficult group, often working under the table, moving from state to state, living off of other people and for many, feeling no responsibility to support their children. They are a labor intensive, expensive group to track and to try to get to pay. Many have already lost their drivers license for failure to pay. Other licenses are also subject to revocation such as those for electricians, plumbers, barbers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, hairdressers and so on. When the hunting and fishing license went on the books as approved to revoke, it generated the most back payments.
Some strategies being considered and weighed against cost benefits are mandatory training programs, OCS probation authority, electronic house arrest, denial of vehicle registration, as well as strengthening the child support contempt statutes.
Consider visiting as tours can be arranged or you can tour by yourself with a handheld audio device. I can be reached at home at 228-8432, State House at 1-800-322-5616 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 136, Ludlow, VT 05149 Find schedules and bills at www.leg.state.vt.us.