Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and lawyers acting on behalf of parents owed child support have asked the federal courts to step in to force the state of Illinois to pay up what it owes to cover the costs of enforcing the collection of child support, saying the state’s failure to pass a budget to fund the program has cost Cook County millions, harms the parents and their children and threatens the future viability of the program.
On March 3, Alvarez filed a motion in Chicago federal court as an intervenor in the case docketed as Case No. 92-cv-01564, under which the state in 2000 entered into a so-called consent decree to resolve a 1992 lawsuit brought by a group of Cook County parents and guardians who wanted to obtain child support enforcement services in compliance with federal law.
Alvarez’s motion was followed on March 4 by a class action filing in the same case on behalf of parents throughout Cook County who receive child support payments through the enforcement program. That motion, filed by attorneys with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, also demanded the court order the state to make the payments, with or without a state budget.
According to the court documents, the state stopped funding the county’s $18 million child support enforcement program when the new fiscal year began in July 2015. The state has operated without a budget since that time, as budget discussions between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who lead the Illinois General Assembly remain at a stalemate.
Alvarez filed her action on behalf of her office and the offices of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and Chief Judge Timothy Evans.
“Vulnerable children in Cook County continue to be collateral damage in this ongoing budget stalemate and we can no longer stand by while this crisis plays out without intervening on behalf of our families who depend upon this funding for basic needs like food, shelter and clothing,” Alvarez said in a public statement.
The county officials, referred to in court documents as intervenors, are asking permission through the lawsuit to intervene in a consent decree that requires the state to fund the program. When outlining his administration’s second-year agenda, Rauner said he is opposed to various consent decrees the state has entered into to resolve lawsuits.
The state delegated some child support enforcement functions in Cook County through a series of intergovernmental agreements to the county agencies which brought the legal action. The county provides services for which it is reimbursed by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The IDHFS also submits expenditure reports from the county for federal reimbursement; according to court documents, federal funds make up 66 percent of Illinois’ costs to administer child support enforcement programs.
The suit claims that as well as failing to disburse any of the county’s funds this fiscal year, the state has not submitted any of the county’s expenditure reports for federal reimbursement.
“Because at stake is the well-being of impoverished children in Cook County, the county has continued to fund the Child Support Program, notwithstanding the failure of the State to reimburse the County for such expenses,” Alvarez’s motion stated.
As of March 1, the state owed the county more than $9 million in reimbursements.
The unanticipated expense has strained county budgets, which cannot sustain any more cutbacks to make up the difference, the county’s legal action said. If the county departments that administer the program don’t receive funding, they will be forced to default under the consent decree and reduce or eliminate services, the filing said. By filing suit to intervene, Alvarez and the other county officials asked the court to force Illinois to abide by the terms of the earlier court order and fund the programs under the decree.
According to the motion filed by the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, in fiscal year 2014, the statewide effort to collect child support collected $805 million on behalf of 480,000 “open cases.”