This article was written by Josh Bills, Consulting Manager.
Public assistance is a crucial financial lifeline for many New Yorkers, including families with single-parent homes. Funds provided through programs such as Temporary Assistance and SNAP help single-parent families develop financial stability and is partially funded by local taxpayers. Through Bonadio’s consulting projects with local departments of social services, we’ve observed that a major source of offsetting these costs is often underutilized in the form of child support payments and their recoupment.
When applying for public assistance, individuals must also apply for child support if a qualifying non-custodial parent is not providing support. If approved for both programs, child support payments are made directly to the county, not the individual who applied, in order to offset the cost of public assistance. It is thought that the non-custodial parent has a primary obligation to support their children and thus the monies provided by them should offset monies received through public assistance.
We’ve found that child support units pursue these funds with varying effectiveness from county to county. While there are several causes of this, it is often the case that counties do not place a focus on obtaining outstanding funds due to department vacancies and high application rates for public assistance – maintaining daily operations of the department becomes its sole focus, leaving little time for secondary responsibilities. While this is understandable, counties can significantly increase child support payments received by incorporating several strategic policies such as: 1) consistently reaching out to clients with outstanding payments; 2) accepting cash payments; 3) allowing walk-in appointments; 4) focusing one’s effort on those clients most likely to provide payment.
Such strategies are particularly helpful with recouping monies that have been outstanding for months or even years. These monies are often unconsciously written-off by the department and can result in millions of county dollars outstanding indefinitely. We have seen counties recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars when both effectively focusing on clients with the greatest chance of remitting payments and consistently pursuing an open dialogue with those clients; money that the County, and its taxpayers, deserve back.
This material has been prepared for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. Should you require any such advice, please contact us directly. The information contained herein does not create, and your review or use of the information does not constitute, an accountant-client relationship.