The Batt administration announced Tuesday it is considering turning the highly successful state-run child support collection program over to a private company.
“If the private sector can do a job - and do it cost-effectively - then it’s time for government to get out of the way,” Health and Welfare Director Linda Caballero told legislative budget writers.
Idaho’s $12 million child support collection program, employing 173 people, has led the nation for the past six years in the amount of support payments collected to offset the cost of welfare benefits.
More than $45 million in support was collected under the program last year.
“I do not know if we will achieve major economies in such a move,” Caballero admitted. “We must closely examine the costs - and see whether bidders can provide us with additional collections or other advantages that enhance the cost effectiveness.”
Analysts said the department has already contracted with law firms around the state to track down the most deadbeat of spouses, and the results have been significant.
In recent addresses, Gov. Phil Batt called for privatization of government services wherever possible with a reduction in the state payroll where that occurs.
Caballero indicated other programs might be privatized as well, but she could offer no specifics.
She also promised the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that the administration would initiate radical changes in the state’s welfare system, focusing initially on the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
Only 2 percent of the state’s population - about 21,000 - participates, the smallest percentage in the nation. It also is harder to qualify for benefits in Idaho than in most other states, and the benefit payments are among the lowest nationwide.
“We know that change must occur - but in a carefully planned manner,” she said. “Ultimately, the plan may require changing almost everything about the way in which benefits are provided.”
And, she said, “We do not intend to await action at the federal level.”
A special reform task force, headed by welfare program specialist Judy Brooks, will take some time to come up with recommended changes in the system. But Caballero indicated she hopes to have a package of proposals ready for consideration by lawmakers a year from now.
Caballero said the task force would look into the possibility of limiting both the time persons can collect welfare and the number of children they can receive benefits for. It also will consider increasing the already solid child support enforcement program and increasing the effectiveness of a job-training program in rural areas.
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