Nevada ranks at bottom in child support collections


CARSON CITY — Nevada legislators frequently hear witnesses testify that the state ranks worst in the nation in its foreclosure rates, suicide rates and Medicaid reimbursements, and near the bottom in support for education.

But today they learned something new: Nevada ranks 54th in its rate of child support collection.

Deadbeat parents are paying just 47.6 percent of their legally obligated child support.

“That puts us behind Guam,” said Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas. “When you count the territories, we are 54th.”

That is what the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services report shows. The report was presented to legislators during a joint Senate-Assembly budget hearing.

According to the Division of Welfare’s Web site, the state collected $179.7 million in support from noncustodial parents last year in 116,233 child support cases.

But it collected just 47.6 percent of the potential support, placing the state just behind Guam’s 48.5 percent and far below the 61.2 percent national average.

The District of Columbia ranked 45th with a 54.2 percent collection rate, while the Virgin Islands was 43rd at 54.6 percent and Puerto Rico 31st at 57.4 percent. Pennsylvania ranked first with a 78 percent support collection rate.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said legislators are used to hearing that Nevada sometimes ranks 51st behind the District of Columbia, but she never heard of a 54th rating.

In many surveys, American possessions and territories are not included.

“It is frustrating for all the custodial parents,” Buckley said. “We are worse than Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”

Welfare Division Administrator Romaine Gilliland said he plans to organize a task force that includes county and state officials and work on improving the state’s collection rating.

Legislators, however, noted that the division still has not acted on most of the recommendations from a 2007 audit.

“The excuse last time (at the 2007 Legislature) was that the audit had just come out and there had not been time to review it,” Buckley said.

Those recommendations include improving or replacing its existing computer system, a step Gilliland said would cost $40 million to $100 million.

A new computer system might allow the agency to better track nonpaying parents and take steps to secure some of their wages, but it’s too expensive.

Child support collection is a collaborative effort between counties and state, he said.

He also said there has not been a stable source of funding for the collection effort.

Cases where a noncustodial parent is not paying support are turned over to the Child Support Enforcement Program. This joint federal, state and local program brings legal action against nonpayers.

The program intended to ensure families’ self-sufficiency by making child support a more reliable source of income, according to the state’s welfare agency Web site.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, expressed dismay at another finding that Nevada ranks third from the bottom in its establishment of paternity percentage, which is important in some child support cases. Nevada’s 79.6 percent rate is far below Arizona.

“Why would we be (so far) down from Arizona?” Coffin asked. “Arizona has as many migrants as Nevada. One might think we have visiting migrants who father children and then leave.”

 

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.