-Governor Criticizes Mandate From Congress

NASHVILLE - Gov. Don Sundquist today called on Tennessee's congressional delegation to change current federal policy regarding child support payments. Because of federal rules, the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) must discontinue the long-standing practice of charging a 5 percent collection fee for processing court-ordered child support payments.

In a letter to the congressional delegation, Sundquist criticized the policy and its affect on state and local government's ability to effectively collect and distribute child support payments.

"I ask for your assistance in changing the current federal policy, or as an alternative, provide full federal funding for this federal unfunded mandate," Sundquist wrote.

County court clerks have historically charged a 5 percent processing fee for court-ordered child support payments. Since the beginning of centralized child support collections in 1999, DHS had continued the practice as a way of offsetting the cost of the new system. The state will now be forced to pay more than $3 million to cover the cost.

"The federal government never objected to collection of the 5 percent fee by the court clerks, but they recently notified us that this practice is not in compliance with federal policy," DHS Commissioner Natasha Metcalf said. "We are left with an unfair, unfunded federal mandate, and it's just bad public policy."

The new policy applies to child support payments that are required to be processed through the state's centralized collection system. It does not affect cases that are appropriately processed by local court clerks. The clerks will still be allowed to collect a 5 percent fee on these cases.

"It is absurd that this policy only allows those non-custodial parents who are responsible and pay the full order amount to be subject to the processing fee, " Sundquist said in the letter.

Metcalf says it will take approximately six months to implement the necessary computer system changes. Non-custodial parents who make, and employers who withhold, child support payments will be notified when the change takes effect.

Contact: Paul Ladd, (615) 313-4707