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Issue Alert - 10-08-01

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Date:

Aug 25, 2010

Program Area:

Food Assistance Program (FAP), Family Independence Program (FIP), Child Day Care (CDC), and Medicaid (MA)

Issue Summary:

Parents or caretakers who are identified as not cooperating with child support enforcement activities for children in their care will be receiving a notice and a form they must fill out to prevent child support enforcement penalties, before DHS activates a new computer interface that is expected to impose penalties in a large number of cases

Persons Affected:

Parents and caretakers with children in their care, who have been identified by the Child Support Enforcement unit as being non-cooperative

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice 320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800)724-7441 Fax: (989) 755-3558 E-mail: info@ccj-mi.org

Michigan Poverty Law Program 611 Church Street, Suite 4A Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3000 (734) 998-6100 (734) 998-9125 Fax


Background

Federal law requires parents (or other caretaker relatives) of minor children who apply for or receive Food Assistance Program (FAP), Family Independence Program (FIP), Child Day Care (CDC), or Medicaid to cooperate in establishing paternity and establishing and enforcing child support orders against absent parents, unless they have established “good cause” for not cooperating.   Failure to cooperate results in disqualification of the non-cooperating individual (for FAP and for non-pregnant Medicaid recipients) or the entire household (for FIP and CDC).   

The Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Support unit, together with local Prosecuting Attorneys and Friends of the Court are responsible for working with parents or caretaker relatives to establish paternity and obtain child support for children who receive public benefits in Michigan. These entities, together with the DHS Child Support disbursement unit, use a computer system called MICSES (Michigan Child Support Enforcement System).  

In Fall 2010, DHS will begin using an interface that will allow information to be transmitted or shared between the Bridges computer system (used by local DHS offices to determine eligibility and benefit amounts) and the MICSES computer system (used by the DHS Child Support unit).

Policy followed by DHS Family Independence Specialists (FIS) and Eligibility Specialists (ES), regarding child support cooperation requirements, penalties, and good cause are contained in Bridges Eligibility Manual (BEM) item 255.  Additional policy, which must be followed by Child Support Specialists who work in the centralized Child Support Unit of DHS, is contained in the IV-D Child Support Manual and Child Support Manual, all of which can be accessed at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/html/, or by clicking on the “DHS Policy Manuals” quick link at www.mplp.org.

What's Happening?

NEW COMPUTER SYSTEM LINK:

In Fall 2010, DHS will begin using an interface that will allow information to be transmitted or shared between the Bridges computer system used by Family Independence Specialists (FIS) and Eligibility Specialists (ES) in local DHS offices to determine eligibility and benefit amounts, and the MICSES computer system used by the DHS Child Support unit.

The CSES-Bridges interface will result in automatic sanctions against FAP, FIP, CDC, and/or Medicaid benefits when the FIS/ES has not identified the parent/caretaker as having good cause and CSES has coded the parent/caretaker as having failed to cooperate and has not subsequently identified the parent/caretaker as cooperating.

Currently, DHS is sending each FIS and ES a monthly list of parents/caretaker relatives who were identified as being non-cooperative but have not been sanctioned.  FIS and ES are supposed to determine whether the case should be coded as having good cause and whether the child for whom paternity or support enforcement activities have not been taken is still in the home, and to enter disqualification sanctions   when there is no good cause and the child is still at home. 

NOTICE WITH NEW OPPORTUNITY TO COOPERATE:

Before the interface goes into effect, DHS is sending out notices and forms to all FAP, FIP, and Medicaid recipients who are coded as not cooperating in the MICSES system.  Recipients must fill out the forms and return them to DHS.  The notice also tells recipients to contact their local DHS worker (FIS or ES) if they have good cause.   

The form the parent/caretaker is asked to complete and return is fairly detailed and may be difficult for some recipients to understand and complete.  When the parent/caretaker has limited information about the absent parent, they are asked to write any information they have about the absent parent on another sheet of paper and send it to DHS with the form.  Specifically, they are asked to tell:

·         How long you have known the parent.

·         Date and type of last contact with the parent.

·         Name(s) of the parent’s family members (parents, siblings
and/or children).

·         Parent’s current or former roommate(s).

·         Parent’s former address(es).

·         Parent’s current or former spouse(s).

·         Any other information you feel may assist in identifying and locating the parent.

Parents/caretakers should not be sanctioned for non-cooperation if they have provided all the information they have about the absent parent.  It is very important for parents/caretakers with limited information about the absent parent to include an extra sheet telling what they know (or that they have no additional information) to avoid sanctions.     They should also not be sanctioned if DHS has failed to accommodate a disability that interferes with completing the form (e.g. by helping them complete the form), if the client requested such accommodation.

The notice to parents/caretakers says the DHS Support Specialist will contact the parent/caretaker if they must take additional steps to establish cooperation.

NOTICE OF SANCTIONS (PENALTIES) AND RIGHT TO HEARING:

When DHS intends to impose sanctions that will reduce or terminate benefits, they must send a notice about the sanction and the recipient’s hearing rights.   Recipients who believe they have cooperated or have good cause for not cooperating must request a hearing within 11 days of the date on the notice to ensure that their benefits remain the same until a hearing has been held.  A hearing can be requested up to 90 days after the notice, but benefits will not continue at previous levels unless the request is timely (within 11 days of the notice date).




NEW COMPUTER SYSTEM LINK:

In Fall 2010, DHS will begin using an interface that will allow information to be transmitted or shared between the Bridges computer system used by Family Independence Specialists (FIS) and Eligibility Specialists (ES) in local DHS offices to determine eligibility and benefit amounts, and the MICSES computer system used by the DHS Child Support unit.

The CSES-Bridges interface will result in automatic sanctions against FAP, FIP, CDC, and/or Medicaid benefits when the FIS/ES has not identified the parent/caretaker as having good cause and CSES has coded the parent/caretaker as having failed to cooperate and has not subsequently identified the parent/caretaker as cooperating.

Currently, DHS is sending each FIS and ES a monthly list of parents/caretaker relatives who were identified as being non-cooperative but have not been sanctioned.  FIS and ES are supposed to determine whether the case should be coded as having good cause and whether the child for whom paternity or support enforcement activities have not been taken is still in the home, and to enter disqualification sanctions   when there is no good cause and the child is still at home. 

NOTICE WITH NEW OPPORTUNITY TO COOPERATE:

Before the interface goes into effect, DHS is sending out notices and forms to all FAP, FIP, and Medicaid recipients who are coded as not cooperating in the MICSES system.  Recipients must fill out the forms and return them to DHS.  The notice also tells recipients to contact their local DHS worker (FIS or ES) if they have good cause.   

The form the parent/caretaker is asked to complete and return is fairly detailed and may be difficult for some recipients to understand and complete.  When the parent/caretaker has limited information about the absent parent, they are asked to write any information they have about the absent parent on another sheet of paper and send it to DHS with the form.  Specifically, they are asked to tell:

What Should Advocates Do?

1.    Educate clients about the need to complete and return paperwork to DHS.  Clients who have difficulty filling the paperwork out should ask DHS for help.   Clients who have physical or cognitive disabilities that interfere with their ability to read or complete the forms should ask for DHS to accommodate their disability by providing help.   Clients should not be sanctioned for failure to cooperate if they do not have the ability to do so because of a disability.

2.    Help clients fill out DHS forms and provide additional information about their knowledge (or lack of knowledge) about the absent parent. Help clients make copies and write the date the form was mailed on the copy.

3.    Help clients request good cause exceptions to child support cooperation requirements when domestic violence or other factors establish good cause (see BEM 255 for definitions of good cause).  Caseworkers who are difficult to contact by phone can be faxed or emailed (the Worker ID in the upper right corner of client notices with the suffix @michigan.gov is the DHS worker’s email address).  Keep the written confirmation that the fax went through.  A written claim of good cause should have the date, client’s signature, case number, and caseworker’s name.

4.    Help clients who need to reach their caseworker leave complete voice mail messages for their caseworker or Support Specialist, including their name, case number, and reason for calling. 

5.  Help clients request hearings when necessary and appropriate.  

What Should Clients Do?

1.   Complete and return any forms you receive from DHS.  Be sure to provide all the information you have about the absent parent(s), unless you have good cause (such as domestic violence).

2.   If you need help or have a disability that makes it difficult for you to complete the form, ask DHS for help. Remind them of your disability if you have one.   If DHS does not accommodate your disability, file a grievance. 

3.   Read notices from DHS carefully and attend any scheduled appointments or court dates for getting child support for a child in your care.

4.   Ask for a good cause exception if you have good cause for not cooperating.  Put the request in writing, with the date, your case number and caseworker’s name, and your signature, if you can.  Keep a copy and write the date you mail or drop off the original.

5.   Request a hearing right away if you get a notice your FIP, FAP, CDC, or Medicaid benefits are being reduced or stopped, if you think the decision is wrong. The hearing request must be in writing and signed y you.  Keep a copy.

Get legal help if you request a hearing or have other problems with your benefits.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee.

You can locate various sources of legal and related services, including the free legal aid office that serves your county, at MichiganLegalAid.org.

You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.