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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
Oversight of Undistributed Child Support Funds


Issued: February 9, 2018
Link to full audit report 2017-S-17

Purpose
To determine if the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s (OTDA) oversight and guidance are sufficient for local social service districts to effectively reduce undistributed child support balances and initiate the process that would allow these funds to be escheated, as required by law. The audit covered the period January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2016.

Background
The federal Social Security Act requires states to operate child support programs. Child support programs help enhance the well-being of children in many ways, including by enforcing child support obligations. OTDA oversees New York’s child support program. OTDA’s responsibilities include monitoring the efforts of 58 local social services district offices (districts) located in New York City and the State’s 57 other counties (the five counties of New York City comprise one district). Districts are each required to establish a support collection unit (SCU) to collect and disburse child support funds. When child support funds have been undistributed for more than four months, districts must determine why and undertake “diligent efforts” to locate the payee (e.g., the custodial parent). When these funds remain undistributed for at least two years, the district is required to petition Family Court. Making the necessary diligent efforts and reporting these undistributed collections (UDC) to Family Court initiates the escheatment process. Accordingly, if Family Court determines the district made appropriate efforts to locate the payee, the court can order that the money be returned to the payer or deposited with the County Treasurer or, in New York City, the Commissioner of Finance. Funds that remain with a County Treasurer or the Commissioner of Finance for more than three years are required to be escheated (turned over) as abandoned property to the Office of the State Comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds (OUF), which will then expand outreach efforts to find the appropriate party.

Key Findings
We found OTDA has made improvements to the way child support funds are distributed, such as increasing electronically disbursed child support payments to help lessen the likelihood that payments will be returned and become undistributable. We also determined, however, that OTDA needs to increase its oversight of districts and provide more guidance to help ensure districts process UDC timely and in accordance with regulations because UDC that continues to age becomes more difficult to distribute to the rightful owner.

  • From 2014 to 2016, UDC statewide dropped by about $19 million. However, nationwide, New York had the second-highest UDC balance – approximately $59 million – at the end of federal fiscal year 2016.
  • Aged UDC is a problem that persists. As of December 31, 2016, approximately $6 million in UDC had been undistributed for three years or more, comprising 12 percent of the State’s total UDC. For example, three districts had UDC accounts that were 38 years old, 37 years old, and 35 years old. (Note that the $6 million excludes UDC that, for various reasons, have no date associated with the UDC balance; therefore, this amount may be understated.)
  • Most county offices (53 of 58) have not taken steps to escheat UDC to OUF. Of five counties that did escheat UDC, only one escheated UDC all three years of our audit period.
  • We surveyed 20 districts. The districts stressed the need for additional guidance from OTDA. Only three districts had a process in place to petition Family Court – initiating the process to escheat UDC to OUF – and those counties had escheated funds during the audit period; two districts were unaware of the regulatory obligation to report UDC to Family Court or that UDC
    should be escheated; 15 districts were aware of their ability to petition Family Court and were interested in implementing a process for doing so. Five districts had reached out to OTDA for guidance – they expressed confusion about the definition of diligent efforts and were unsure of the appropriate steps needed to petition Family Court in conformity with State law. Despite this, the guidance they received typically included only a reference to applicable statutes.
  • Prior to our audit, OTDA had taken very few steps to ensure all districts were aware of the various regulations surrounding UDC. OTDA officials acknowledged that districts need additional guidance and stated they have been researching methods to improve the processes related to UDC and escheatment since mid-2016. Also, in 2017, OTDA began one-on-one outreach efforts to explain certain procedures to districts.

Key Recommendation

  • Develop specific policies and guidelines to help districts reduce UDC balances, including:
    • Providing clear and measurable guidance for what constitutes diligent efforts and measurable guidelines for the districts to meet this definition;
    • Establishing an expected time frame for when districts should petition Family Court regarding UDC; and
    • Developing uniform procedural steps that the districts can use to initiate the escheatment
      process.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance: Use of Electronic Benefit Cards at Prohibited Locations (2016-S-52)
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance: Wage Subsidy and Transitional Employment Programs (2015-S-58)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Andrea Inman
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: StateGovernmentAccountability@osc.state.ny.us
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236

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