By Meghan McCann

Little data exist across the country on how states are using federal incentive payments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of child support programs. That information can be even harder to gather in the eight states with county-operated programs, as found by a recent legislative evaluation in North Carolina.  

North Carolina conducted a study that resulted in recommended improvements for its use of child support  incentive payments. A report ordered by a committee of the North Carolina General Assembly found that the state’s Child Support Services program ranks 24th among the 50 states in performance.

The report focused primarily on federal incentive payments that states receive based on their performance on five key child support enforcement measures. The incentive payments are intended to improve the effectiveness or efficiency of the child support program. The authors found little information on how those payments are being used to improve child support program performance. North Carolina is a state-administered, county-operated system and all of the incentive payments are passed through to the counties who run the program. The report pointed out that the state distributes incentive payments to counties based solely on collections, without any incentive or penalty structure, to encourage improved county performance. In addition, there is little communication between the state and counties about how the counties are using the incentive payments to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

The report ultimately made three recommendations for improving the use of incentive payments. It recommended that the General Assembly direct State Child Support Services (CSS) to:

Retain 25 percent of federal incentive payments to enhance centralized child support services and provide incentive bonuses for employees of county programs that meet or exceed goals.

 Look at whether there is an alternative formula to distributing incentive payments while distributing the remaining 75 percent of the incentive funding under the current formula.

 Require counties to document how incentive payments are being used at the county level.

View the full report

Also check out NCSL’s Child Support Homepage and Child Support and Family Law Legislation Database for more!

Meghan McCann is a policy associate with NCSL’s Children and Families Program. She works primarily on child support, child welfare and family law policy.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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