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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

H&W is waiting to send warning letters to 155,000 families, in hopes of solution emerging…

The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare is preparing to send out 155,000 letters to 155,000 Idaho families warning that they may lose their child support payments, due to lawmakers’ defeat of a bill on the final day of this year’s legislative session – but they’re not sending the letters yet.

“We’re kind of working with the governor’s office and the House speaker,” said Health & Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan. “If a solution would present itself, basically we don’t want to send ‘em out – we’d want to save the money.” Shanahan said the department’s estimate is 50 cents a letter, including postage, envelopes, staff time and other costs. That’s $77,500 for the mailing.

“We definitely need to have a letter ready,” Shanahan said. “But we don’t want to alarm people if there appears to be a solution. So we’re really hoping something will move forward here. We’re kind of waiting.”

The department would need to give families a minimum of 30 days notice about the cutoff of child support payments; the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement has set a cut-off date of June 12, at which point, if Idaho lawmakers haven’t fixed the problem, Idaho would lose access to all federal child-support enforcement tools, plus $16 million in federal funds, two-thirds of the state’s child support enforcement budget. Another $30 million in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds also would be in jeopardy, as they’re dependent on compliance with child support enforcement; those funds pay for everything from cash payments to needy families to subsidized child care.

The only way for the state to fix the problem is for Gov. Butch Otter to call lawmakers back to Boise for a special session to pass the bill. Otter said last week that he’s doing the necessary groundwork to make sure that if he calls a special session, it would be a successful one.

“I think we’re just hoping that something will move forward here shortly,” Shanahan said. “Because if we sent a letter out Thursday or Friday and all of a sudden there seems to be a solution Monday, the letter was a waste, and it’s going to alarm people unnecessarily.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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