Working hard to make child support payments easier
Originally Published in Statewise Fall 2009
Many state employees pay child support through payroll deduction. Until now, the process of getting the money to the custodial parent has included generating a warrant for each affected employee. Automated distribution for as many of these payments as possible is an idea whose time has come.
For more than a year, the Fiscal Management Division has been working toward a September payroll implementation date for child support deduction automation changes to the Uniform Statewide Payroll/Personnel System (USPS) and the Standardized Payroll/Personnel Reporting System (SPRS). The 81st Legislature has now mandated this good idea in Senate Bill 865.
Why was the Comptroller’s office already busy preparing before the legislation was even filed? Because direct deposit saves money and is an important priority for the state. The Office of the Attorney General wanted a single direct deposit for each state agency’s accumulated child support obligations, along with an addenda file with the information needed to disburse the funds to the custodial parents.
Statewide disbursement units (SDUs) are responsible for collecting and distributing most child support in each state. To start with, the payroll system change will only include payments to the Texas SDU, but other states are on board with this process improvement because it uses a national standard for electronic payments. The same mechanism will eventually be used for child support deductions paid through SDUs in other states and may be used for other payroll deductions in the future.
The benefits of paying through a single direct deposit with an addenda file are many:
- Reducing manual processing increases efficiency.
- Funds are distributed to the custodial parent sooner.
- There is less likelihood of handling errors that could misroute or delay payments.
But making this happen is more complicated than it sounds. Generating a single direct deposit by agency to the SDU is only half the story. The addenda file must have employee-level detail, including the child support case ID and cause number. For the addenda to be correct, the payroll system records had to be reconciled with the child support orders processed through the SDU.
The first step in the new procedure for USPS and SPRS agencies is to determine whether the deduction is paid through the Texas SDU. Then the agency enters or submits the identifying information needed for the addenda file. When a payroll is processed, the payroll systems record the deduction amount and identifying information, and the deduction amount is sent to a holding fund in the Uniform Statewide Accounting System (USAS), which also required modifications.
On the payment date, a direct deposit for the amount in the USAS holding fund for each agency is sent to the SDU, along with the identifying information for each child support order. An automated process at the SDU verifies the information on the file and distributes funds to the custodial parents.
“On top of other direct deposit advantages, this process is the right thing to do,” says Terry Wooten, who has been training agencies on the changes. “Errors that delay payments can have devastating consequences, and automated processing reduces errors. Getting funds to custodial parents faster and more efficiently has a big payoff for the children.”