Winter 2017, Issue 1

THE IMPORTANCE OF AB1058 FUNDING TO FAMILIES AND PROGRAM SUCCESS

[Part 2 of a two-part series]

[The Bench] Editor’s Note:
Due to its importance to all trials courts, the authors chose to write a two-part series. Part 1 provides background information surrounding the creation of a statewide child support program that is supported by federal grant funding and discusses recent budget woes. Part 2 will explore in more detail the unique aspects of the program and its evolution, as well as potential program impacts when revising funding allocations to each of the counties’ grants.

In the first part of this two-part series, we wrote generally about the creation of the statewide child support system with specialized child support courts (aka AB1058 courts or Title IV-D courts). The truly unique aspects of this program and why funding allocation issues are so important to all courts, as well as to the success of the entire program statewide, are addressed here.

Unique aspects of an AB1058 program

Child support cases are paper-intensive and very dynamic, with parents’ employment status, income, insurance, family composition, location (parents and minors), custody, and visitation, among other things, changing often over the life of a case. Case workloads can last well beyond the eighteen years of a child’s minority, with enforcement activities ongoing until arrears are fully paid. DCSS also provides services, and files cases, on behalf of other states and countries.

Further, California’s population is highly transient, with parents often moving between counties, and to other states and countries. DCSS cases move constantly between counties, and beyond. Despite current overall number of active statewide DCSS cases (1.106 million in FY 2015) being fairly similar to what they were almost twenty years ago (1.157 million in FY 1997), numbers within counties have shifted—dramatically in some cases. For example, Los Angeles has just a slightly higher number of cases than when the program started, while case numbers in Sacramento and San Bernardino have steadily increased, more than doubling during that same time.1 They have also increased in some smaller counties and decreased in others.

Additionally, unlike any other program, federal grant funding requires each state’s program to perform at certain minimum levels in five areas, called “performance measures.”2 DCSS expects each county’s LCSA to strive to meet and improve these measures.3 Because the counties’ respective performances vary, the LCSAs are driven to work on improving their performance measures. This often translates into very different types and amount of work brought to the courts for the same number of cases; e.g., one LCSA may focus more on modifications, or bring more enforcement actions to court if lagging in a particular performance measure, while another LCSA aggressively reduces litigation by obtaining more stipulations.

Traditional funding methodologies may no longer be a good fit—the funding “problem” needs better solutions

The AB1058 program has had almost twenty years to develop operationally. In that time, some counties have become more efficient than others, and found ways to carry their workload. E-filing, for example, has helped reduce the cost of case processing. A number of courts have streamlined work-flows, prepared orders in court, and developed specialized calendars, among other things, working collaboratively with their family law facilitator’s office and LCSA.

This has been extremely beneficial to the overall program, and has helped create “right-sized” orders, reduce defaults, get money to families faster, and improve the state’s overall performance.4 It also helps explain why some courts are able to process DCSS cases with comparatively fewer commissioners handling more cases with less staff. Many differences between the courts have emerged, rendering the concept of an “average” case, including time and cost to process, no longer reliable.5 Identifying and capitalizing on these efficiencies makes more sense than simply re-distributing monies based on active case numbers.

Also over the last two decades, courts have annually submitted funding allocation requests and had the opportunity to participate in mid-year reallocation of funds unspent or returned by other courts. Some counties have repeatedly turned back monies to the point where their base funding has consistently been adjusted downwards—“self-adjusting” even below the original minimum floor. Others have always requested greater allocations, yet intermittently and/or regularly leave money on the table.

The evolving historical spending requests and spending patterns of the courts should be analyzed. They are a good illustration of the highly unique nature of the program, and also show why relying upon traditional funding methodologies, whether WAFM (workload allocation funding methodology), or an averaged snapshot of DCSS active cases by county, does not accurately capture the true workload of AB1058 commissioners, family law facilitators, or support staff.6 Indeed, use of such a traditional methodology for such a unique program—even with “adjustments” for cost of living and minimum funding floors—may actually be detrimental to the program overall: it will cause many more counties to lose funding (with a limited number gaining funding), rendering them unable to meet the needs of their population, adversely affecting their performance measures, and in some instances, re-distributing money to counties that historically don’t really need it.

Even small cuts, especially to the smaller counties that already have difficulty in meeting their minimum infrastructure costs to administer the program, can often have a greater negative impact on access to court issues, a drop in services, and consequently a drop in money going to families. And if the funding methodology is tied similarly to the family law facilitators’ program, the impact can be even greater for smaller, rural counties. This will negatively affect the federally imposed performance standards in multiple counties, and consequently affect the entire state’s program.7

Now is the perfect opportunity to develop and strengthen good program practices, and help all counties achieve greater efficiencies. As noted, DCSS is currently doing their own funding reallocation evaluation, decidedly not focusing on just active case numbers, but on a variety of other metrics they are able to pull from their statewide system (e.g., number of motions, default rates, case types, how long it takes to get a filed court order, etc.), broken down county by county. The latter approach better captures the true need and workload of each county’s child support program while focusing on program improvements. As DCSS reallocates its own LCSA funding, this will inescapably have a corresponding effect on the amount of work LCSAs bring to their respective courts. Thus, DCSS’s study, and its determination of reallocation of funding on the LCSA side, is crucial to adopting a fair and accurate funding methodology for courts.

In summary, tackling funding allocation issues is always difficult. Finding the right balance of the relevant and varied factors required to ensure successful implementation of the program in all fifty-eight counties is a tall order. A program as unique as AB1058 deserves a funding approach that addresses the needs and requirements of this very important federally funded grant. The families of California are counting on it.

Note: Detailed information on the last proposal and recommendations considered by the Judicial Council in February 2016, can be found at: https://jcc.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=4250437&GUID=98FC98F3-0679-40FA-B131-22432724CC27.

A report on the progress of the Joint Sub-Committee re: AB1058 Funding Allocation is due to the Judicial Council in December of this year.

FY 2013-14 FULL TIME EQUIVALENT POSITION AND COMMISIONER TO SUPPORT STAFF ALLOCATION

San Diego3.017.45.866,431

Court # of FTE CSC (Comm.) # of FTE CSC Support Staff Support Per 1.0 CSC DCSS Caseload FY 13-14
Los Angeles 4.0 53.1 13.27 249,046
San Bernardino 2.3 24.3 10.56 101,109
Riverside 0.3 13.5 45.00 71,605
Sacramento 1.7 10.7 6.29 70,017
Orange 2.5 18.45 7.38 60,881

1 Active DCSS cases between 1997–2015: Los Angeles has fluctuated, increasing over 100,000—up to 358,422 in 2007—but declining ever since—down to 233,647 in FY 2015; Sacramento and San Bernardino have steadily increased over that time with Sacramento going from 35,237 (1997) to 79,866, and San Bernardino going from 41,584 (1997) to 99,287 in FY 2015.

2 1) Paternity Establishment; 2) Percent of Cases with a Support Order; 3) Current Collections; 4) Arrears Collection; and 5) Cost Effectiveness.

3 California as a state does relatively well in most of the measures, but ranks near the bottom on cost effectiveness. The reasons are complex, but in large part due to vastly different program implementations: a number of other states have either a non-judicial system and/or require all support payments—even private cases—be counted in their collections process, thereby increasing their performance statistics. In California, cases where the parties are paid directly are not counted or serviced by DCSS; leaving DCSS with harder to collect cases and all welfare cases.

4 For example, San Francisco has managed to reduce its default rate from approximately 60% down to 20%, after working collaboratively with their LCSA. It has been shown that cases where orders are established by default do not perform as well in terms of payment to the families. A number of counties—too many, quite frankly—have regularly reported default rates in excess of 50%, some over 60%, and even up to 80% (Los Angeles). Here is one area where limited targeted funding may very well help. Rather than fund a county to help process defaults, funding should be directed to those counties that could use help to reduce the number of defaults. E-filing is another example where targeted shifting of funds should be done: helping to bring all counties up to such functionality will help the statewide program, not just one county at the expense of another.

5 Indeed, no reliable data exists on what it costs a court to process a DCSS case.

6 A comparison of full-time equivalent (FTE) number of commissioners to support staff shows vast differences. See infra SIDE CHART. The initial 1997 report by the Family & Juvenile Law Advisory Committee to the Judicial Council, which established some minimum standards, indicated a support staff of seven FTE staff to one FTE commissioner. The initial funding allocation was based on this formula, yet in looking at the six largest counties, the ratio now varies greatly, despite the fact that a number of these counties had relatively similar DCSS “caseload” numbers that year. All caseloads in those counties have gone down since then, except for Sacramento.

7 If only relatively minimal changes are made to the proposed recommendation put forth by TCBAC (the Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee) in the last Judicial Council report, it would have drastic consequences, with an anticipated approximately forty counties to receive less funding.