July 10, 2000
Patricia Harris-Morehead at
(615) 313-4707


NASHVILLE —Officials at the state Department of Human Services (DHS) today reported the centralized child support collections unit is processing a daily average of more than $1.3 million and has a processing rate that is at 99.9 percent.

This means less than 1/10th of a percent is not processing immediately. Many of these payments require manual research due to missing information on the payment such as a court docket number, address, name, or social security number that is used to match the payment to the right family.

Tennessee and the nation's other states were mandated by Congress to have one central collection point for most child support payments in their states by last October. The new requirement was part of the 1996 federal welfare reform law.

Prior to this change, approximately 250 Tennessee court clerks collected child support payments in the state.

State officials say a recent federal review of Tennessee's centralized collection process is consistent with their earlier comments.

"There are no surprises in this report. The auditors were asked to review problems that we were already working to resolve. They did their job and we assisted them by cooperating fully with this review," state Department of Human Services Commissioner Natasha Metcalf said.

According to state officials and the report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most of the challenges that developed during the first few months of implementation have been resolved because DHS:

  • Reassigned DHS personnel to work on "suspended payments" to eliminate the backlog. At one point, the agency had about 150 people temporarily reassigned working on the backlog (November 1999).
  • Added personnel (hired by the contractor) to answer the customer service phone lines (December 1999).
  • Increased the number of phone lines and added other features to the phone system to enhance efficiency (November and December).
  • Directed local child support offices or court clerks' office to implement procedures to assure that dockets/orders/obligations are entered into the state child support computer system (TCSES) quickly to assure timely distribution of child support payments (September & October 1999).
  • Implemented procedures to assure that interim payments are reflected timely on the child support computer system. (November 1999).
  • Publicized key information needed on payments sent into the Centralized Collections Unit via news media, trade organization newsletters, and special mailings to employers (August 1999), non-custodial parents (September 1999), and custodial parents (September 1999).

Tennessee, like a number of other states had concerns about the federal mandate creating Centralized Collection Units in each state. Officials were especially concerned because Tennessee does not have a uniform court docket system, and there were 250 court clerks' offices involved in the collection and distribution of child support.

The state requested a federal waiver to the mandate, but it was denied. "Since we did not want to be sanctioned by the federal government, we moved forward with plans to implement centralized collections by October 1. Now, I understand, an extension to that deadline has been given to the states that were unable to meet the October 1 mandate," Metcalf said.

Officials also noted that the General Assembly had to pass state legislation, which mirrored the federal law that mandated the child support changes. Tennessee's centralized collections state law was not passed until 1998.

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