Authors: Daniel Schroeder and Nicholas Doughty
Date: August 2009
Publication Type: Report, 127pp.
In 2005, the Texas Office of the Attorney General, Texas Workforce Commission, and child support courts initiated a five-site child support compliance and employment pilot project linking IV-D courts, OAG child support, and local workforce development boards. The project, called NCP Choices, provides employment services linked to enhanced child support monitoring to low-income non-custodial parents (NCPs) who have fallen behind on their child support payments. The pilot was expanded in 2007 to include an additional six sites, and expansion continues to this date.
Researchers at the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin estimated impacts of NCP Choices on key outcome measures after four years of operation in four of the five original sites, and short-term outcomes in six expansion sites, and studied the process of NCP Choices. Program impacts were estimated using a scientifically valid quasi-experimental comparison group design.
Results from the 2009 report indicated that, relative to the comparison group, NCPs ordered into the program:
- Paid their child support 47% more often, and paid $57 per month more, for a 51% increase in total collections
- Paid their child support 50% more consistently over time
- Continued to pay their child support more often, in greater amounts, and more consistently over time even two to four years after the program
- Were employed at 21% higher rates, an effect that also persisted at least two to four years after the program
- Were about one third less likely to file an unemployment claim in any given month in the first year after the program
- Participated in NCP Choices workforce development 82% more than did the comparison group, indicating a high degree of compliance with the order, with levels of participation by NCPs well beyond the range of what has been reported for programs serving low income NCPs, including other ‘mandatory’ programs.
- The custodial parents (CPs) associated with NCP Choices participants were 21% less likely to receive TANF benefits in the first year after the program, and 29% less likely two to four years after the program. These CPs were 2% more likely to receive Food Stamps, but this impact only occurred during a down economy.
- Earnings of employed NCP Choices participants were lower– likely a result of more of them entering new employment at a somewhat lower wage.
Site differences in NCP Choices impacts were successfully explained by survey ratings of the sites on dimensions of program process, and these results gave some clues to improving program performance. NCP Choices program impacts also varied under different economic conditions. The impacts of NCP Choices on child support collections frequency, average amount collected, and consistency of collections were all higher under conditions of moderate employment growth, as opposed to lesser but still positive impacts when employment growth stagnated. Program impacts on employment were greater when the local unemployment rate was low. And finally, NCP Choices was found to increase Food Stamp receipt under conditions of zero employment growth, but had no impact when employment growth was moderate. On most measures the NCP Choices program still showed positive impacts even under some of the worst economic conditions this country has seen in decades.
Finally, given the high degree of success observed to date, the Texas Legislature should fund a statewide expansion of the NCP Choices program, and the federal government should make it easier for other states to develop similar programs. Expansion of the program would likely significantly benefit the state of Texas and low-income families alike.