FARGO — Child support enforcers in North Dakota and the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation are looking into why some parents don't pay across state and tribal lines.
The child support programs of the North Dakota Department of Human Services and MHA Nation received a $500,000 federal grant to study how child support payments fall through the cracks when one or more parents is living in a different state, tribe or country than a kid. The grant, announced this week, is one of nine that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded to child support agencies.
About a quarter of North Dakota child support cases involve another jurisdiction. And when that happens, only about half of the collections are paid. That compares to cases where parents reside in the same state as their child and three-quarters of the collections are paid.
“That’s a flashing light to us,” said James Fleming, director of the state Child Support Division.
Now with the grant, a six-person team comprised of two MHA representatives and four state officials, including Fleming, will study the issue for two years. The team is in the process of seeking an outside consultant for the project.
MHA is one of two tribes in the state with a child support services program. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation also has a program, but many of the cases are on the South Dakota side of the reservation. Most of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate’s cases are also on the South Dakota side. As for Spirit Lake and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, the tribes don’t have their own programs.
Part of the project will include analyzing the case referral and transfer processes between the state and MHA to determine if there is a better way to coordinate casework between the two offices.
Fleming said of the approximate 40,000 cases the state has, about a couple thousand involve a tribe in North Dakota or elsewhere. Jurisdictional issues for tribes are “harder to unravel,” than for states where the rules are a little clearer, Fleming said, adding that the grant will allow the state and MHA to build on their existing relationship.
“This would mark a great improvement in the system, as our Native American children would benefit from being able to receive the support they need, should a parent live on or off the reservation,” said MHA Chairman Mark Fox.
Another part of the project will be analyzing how North Dakota or MHA works with other states.
“We want to study why it is when we ask another state for help it doesn’t happen very fast,” Fleming said. “Find out where there is a breakdown in communication.”
After studying the issue for two years, the group will produce a report to show what works and doesn’t work for collecting child support payments from out-of-state parents.
“The first part is diagnosing the problem,” Fleming said. “And once we diagnose it, we can put the team together to solve the problem, and ultimately get more money in for kids."