Friday, October 2, 1999
AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn today called on the federal government to allow flexibility in implementing an unfunded child support mandate. Although the current Texas child support system operates efficiently through county offices, this federal mandate, the State Disbursement Unit (SDU), requires the centralization of child support payments. The US Department of Health and Human Services has previously refused to allow any flexibility in implementing the program.
"We need the assistance of local officials to help the 2.6 million children who depend upon child support," said Attorney General Cornyn. "The federal government should grant us the flexibility to find the local solutions to make this program work."
The SDU will drastically change the way child support payments are received and disbursed in Texas. Approximately 385,000 cases involving 570,000 children and $1.4 billion in child support will eventually be shifted to the SDU. The Office of the Attorney General has sent four requests for flexibility to federal authorities and received negative responses to three. The most recent request is still pending.
Payments on Attorney General child support cases collected by the counties must be redirected to the SDU-but not all child support payments. In a confusing decision, the federal government has stated that payments received by the counties on non-Attorney General cases remitted by employers on obligations established on or after January 1, 1994 must also be redirected to the SDU.
"I am extremely disappointed in the requirements of this unfunded mandate. It makes our job more difficult in trying to find the funding to pay for it, and it makes the job of local officials much more difficult in trying to implement confusing child support rules. They are asking us to reinvent the wheel and pay for it ourselves," said Representative Rob Junell.
"If it were my choice, I would not implement the SDU. I want to keep control at the local level. But since over a billion dollars in federal aid is tied to the SDU, my hands are tied," said Attorney General Cornyn. "However, as my office implements this mandate, I have two guiding principles-no disruptions to child support payments and the expense to the taxpayers must be kept to a bare minimum."
In the next few weeks, a new SDU request for proposal will be issued. Additionally, the Office of the Attorney General will continue to work with members of the Texas Congressional delegation to develop a legislative remedy in terms of implementation date and operation of the SDU.
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