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Letter to the Oregon Child Support Program, Part II

Hello,
I believe the use of the term, “child support” to be incongruent with the practices of the Oregon Child Support Program and the State of Oregon for the following reasons:

1) There is no defaulting enforcement or interest from your department or the State to ensure that the money your department collects is spent on the child. There is apparently an assumption that the money is spent on the child, while there is a much bigger emphasis on collecting the money and delivering it to the obligee. In this current set of laws, we have an inequity of accountability.

2) There is no avenue or mechanism available to the obligor to spend the money owed to the obligee directly on the child.

3) The child is never informed by any government department that the obligor is sending money to the child on a recurring basis.

4) There is no avenue available to the non-custodial parent to insist that the payments are voluntary and not garnished by the State, regardless of a timely and documented payment history.

5) The term “child support” produces a strong emotional response from the general public. Strong emotional responses do not encourage logical and productive thinking which are essential for successful parenting.

For these reasons, I insist that your program and the State of Oregon consider using the term “Parenting Income Modifier” instead of “Child Support.” Changing the name away from “child support” is a first step in not only being congruent with the laws that are now in place, but also in changing public perception about what is actually being practiced by the family courts. I would be happy to use the term “child support” if the State ensured the money collected was spent on the child.

Thank you for your consideration and time.

\\cc: Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. David Wu, Oregon Department of Justice

  • The Child Support Program (CSP) Constituents desk has reviewed your correspondence dated 07/13/2011.

    This correspondence has been forwarded to our legislative/policy team for review. We cannot guarantee legislative changes will be made based on the issues raised in your correspondence. However, your concerns are important to us and they will be reviewed by our legislative team for future consideration. As always, you have the option of contacting your local legislator to voice your concerns for future legislative changes as well. You can find out who your local legislator is by visiting the following webpage: http://www.leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/home.htm

    You also bring up concerns surrounding payments made to the CSP voluntarily and not by income withholding. Most child support in the State of Oregon is collected by income withholding regardless of whether past due child support is owed. In 1989 the Oregon Legislature decided all child support in Oregon would be collected by income withholding. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, commonly referred to as welfare reform, further reinforced the collection of child support by income withholding. The Federal Government mandates income withholding for child support because their goal is to make child support withholding as common as withholding for taxes and social security. This will also help eliminate the stigma previously associated with child support withholdings. OAR 137-055-0520 allows for an exception to income withholding. Should an obligor meet the criteria for the exception listed in subsection(5), the obligor can be granted an exception and an electronic payment withdrawal can be set up from the obligor’s bank account. However, if the criteria are not met, income withholding must continue.

    If you have further questions or your concerns regarding your specific case you can contact us at 800-850-0228.

    Sincerely,
    John Pederson
    Constituent Liaison
    Oregon Child Support Program

  • robert

    Dear Mr. Pedersen,
    Thank you for your informed reply. I’ve carefully read your response, thought alot about it, and have waited for my state senators and representative to also submit their thoughts. They must be busy as I haven’t received a response. I’m sure I will receive a response in time.

    In the meantime, I wanted to voice a couple of thoughts to your response because I think they are important. You revealed that in 1989 the Oregon Legislature decided to collect all child support by income withholding. If I understand this correctly, welfare reform encouraged states to do this through financial incentives or perhaps financial penalties if a state did not institute automatic withholding (please correct me if I’m wrong). You also mention that the Federal Government wants "to make child support withholding as common as withholding for taxes and social security." Please bear with me, I have a point. According to the Oregon Department of Justice, the Oregon Child Support Division ("OCSD") uses child support that it collects to "…return crucial funds to the public treasury…", from your homepage. This is a conflict of interest in that your department has incentives to 1) inflate child support obligations, and 2) increase the efficiency at the sake of equity for which they are collected. The Oregon Department of Justice has an inherent and vested interest in the above two COIs and I fail to see how these incentives directly help Oregon families.

    The reason that you mention to withhold child support directly from obligors paycheck regardless of a history of timely payments is to "remove the stigma previously associated with child support withholdings." I have held no such stigma (nor do I mention one in my letter) and honestly fail to see how this tactic would work to remove such a stigma. In short, the reason you provide holds no weight and I think you know this too, if you really think about it.

    You state that "…most child support in the State of Oregon is collected by income withholding regardless of whether past due child support is owed." I’m confused, on the Oregon Child Support’s website, your department states that "…most child support payments are made voluntarily by parents." Which is it?

    Also, you mention a reference to an Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR 137-055-0520). I wasn’t able to locate the text for that rule and am not sure if it was a typo on your part. I did find one close in numbering for OAR 137-055-5020, but regrettably that expired on July 11th, 2011, so to my knowledge I cannot apply for alternative payments to OCSD.

    Finally Mr. Pedersen, I don’t know if you have any personal experience with being an obligor of child support. I am a native Oregonian of 38 years, am gainfully employed, love my children, and have had no issues with the Oregon (or any) court. I like to think I am a valuable citizen for any city or state. I used to think my state was a great place to live and raise a family. That was before I had to pay child support to your department, which I do on time. I find myself looking forward to leaving the State as the most important issue I had in my letter was completely obviated; the lack of accountability for the receiving parent to ensure child support funds collected by your department are actually spent on the child. To me, this is a flagrant and obvious display of your department’s lack of responsibility to do what your stated goal is: "…to help children in need."

    I thank you for your time and wish to you and your family that you may never have to deal with a set of laws like Oregon has for child support obligors.

    Sincerely,Robert

    \\cc: Sen Jeff Merkley, Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. David Wu, Gov John Kitzhaber, Mayor Sam Adams, Oregon Department of Justice, US Office of Government Ethics

  • It appears I’m not alone in writing of issues with the child support office. “We are not sure why the Oregon Attorney General has not made public the issue of possible fraud in his department.” –Oregon War Veterans Association

  • First, let me apologize for any continued frustration you are feeling with the Child support Program (CSP). We will address the concerns you raised in your correspondence dated 07/21/2011.

    You questioned a portion of the Attorney Generals message on the Oregon CSP website which states in part the CSP uses child support that it collects to “…return crucial funds to the public treasury…”. According to the CSP web site that you referred to, the Attorney Generals Message indicates the following in its entirety:

    “Raising and support children is always a challenge. Being a single parent is even harder. Every day the Oregon Child Support Program helps more than 450,000 parents provide the financial and emotional support their children need while returning crucial funds to the public treasury. I am very proud of the Oregon Child Support Program and the services it provides to help children in need, reduce reliance on public assistance, encourage family self-sufficiency and save taxpayer money.”

    When the statement is read in its entirety it takes on a larger global mission, including helping more than 450,000 parents provide the financial and emptional support their children need.

    Incentives impacting the Child Support Program are referenced under OAR 137-055-1500(2)(a-d). With regard to the collection of Child Support, it is looked at on a dollar basis and not the method of its delivery. For further information on how the CSP performed, you may wish to review the Oregon Child Support Self-Assessment Report FFY 2010.

    Your letter correctly indicates the wrong Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) was referenced in our letter. The correct OAR for exceptions to income withholding is OAR 137-055-5020. The criteria for such exceptions are in subsection(5). If the criteria are not met, income withholding must continue.

    If you have any further questions or your concerns regarding your specific case, you can contact us at 800-850-0228.

    Sincerely,
    John Pedersen
    Contituent Liaison
    Oregon Child Support Program

  • I am writing in response to your Letter to the United States Office of Government Ethics (OGE) received 28 July 2011.

    OGE was established by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 as the office responsible for setting policies aimed at the prevention of conflicts of interest in the executive branch of the Federal Government. OGE, a small agency within the executive branch, assists executive branch departments and agencies in implementing ethics rules and policies that deal with conflict-of-interest laws, post-employment restrictions, the standards of ethical conduct, and the public and confidential financial disclosure systems.

    OGE is not an investigatory agency, nor does it conduct prosecutions. The situation that you describe is outside of our purview. We noted that the Oregon Department of Justice has forwarded your correspondence to the appropriate division. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding this letter please contact OGE at (202) 482-9300, by email at contactoge@oge.gov, or by general correspondence. I hope this has been helpful.

    Sincerely,
    United States Office of Government Ethics.

    Sincerely,

    United States Office of Government Ethics.

  • Casual Observer

    ” …important issue I had in my letter was completely obviated; the lack of accountability for the receiving parent to ensure child support funds collected by your department are actually spent on the child.”. I believe this is at the heart, and in the minds, of all of us who give thousands up in mandatory garnishments for support. I want my children to have good lives just as much as I should. But at what point do we have a say in what a “good life” means? The impact on payors seems to be irrelevant in current thinking, and smacks of being unconstitutional.
    I was told before my divorce, which I was completely against, “I never loved you, I only wanted to have children.” The other party now has a home she owns, a new car, credit cards, savings, and to top it off, my children- 3000 miles from Oregon. I, on the other hand, have been struck by our nation’s economic woes, live in a hole, am shackled with 1000 a month in payments to her I cannot make, leaving me stuck in an economic death spiral. Excuse me for trusting.

    I generally get the feeling we as a nation have legislated ourselves into a corner where no one has the ability, much less responsibility, to do the right thing.

  • Casual Observer – “…smacks of being unconstitutional.” Absolutely.

  • Dear Mr. Pedersen,

    Thank you for your response to my ongoing frustration with the Oregon Child Support Program (“OCSP”). I sincerely appreciate your willingness to field my issues. I feel this to be a positive discourse and hope to see some kind of change. I will gladly accept your apology when there is a motion to change the lack of equal accountability in child support or meet any of my other motions. At this time, I cannot accept your (unexpected) apology, however.

    My questioning of the “larger global mission” of the Oregon Child Support Program is a constructive dialog because the Oregon Child Support Program should have only one mission: to financially support children of divorced families. In “Running Head: CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES AND EQUAL LIVING STANDARDS” by Sanford Braver, PhD & David Stockburger, PhD, they conclude “Child support, as the name suggests, is simply to support the child. If policy makers aim only at that simple goal, and don’t attempt to equate the two households, many of the complexities apparent in the present analysis disappear.” The focus of Dr. Braver and Dr. Stockburger’s work is to demonstrate that child support is calculated as alimony by some states, not as child support, because there are financial incentives for the state government to maximize obligations. This is an interesting assertion, and a minor digression on the scope of my letter.

    I reviewed the incentives impacting the OCSP you forwarded. Are there any incentives for the OCSP to keep accounts from going into delinquency? Is it appropriate to assert that the OCSP has more incentives to let accounts slip into arrears, report them as delinquent to the Federal government, and subsequently collect on the delinquent accounts?

    This is a concern for me because I have been gainfully employed through the duration of my child support obligation. My child support obligation went into arrears in 2009 through no fault of my own. Child support is collected directly out of my paycheck without any control from me. In point of fact, I had to contact the OCSP twice to have them address the increasing past due amount.

    Thank you for your time and attention to the issues and questions I’ve raised.

    Sincerely,
    Robert

    \\cc: Sen Jeff Merkley, Sen. Ron Wyden,Oregon Department of Jusice, Gov John Kitzhaber

  • Michele Merriman

    Bravo, Robert.
    As an individual who has been paying “child support” for some 15+ years, I add the comment that for non-custodial support payers, we also know the very real fact that cild support does not end with what the courts order. We also pay beyond those orders, willingly, for the sake and welfare of our children.
    I have worked in human resources and payroll for these past 15 years, also and I can tell you, across the board, I don’t know how child support obligees survive…myself included.
    Reform is needed.
    I am 6 months away from the support I pay going directly to the child it is intended to support and at that time, when it will not be seen as sour grapes, I will be on the front steps.
    Michele