Legislator says law aimed to prevent new fees on families

Rep. Jason Lowe

OKLAHOMA CITY — A Democratic lawmaker Monday touted a new law aimed at stopping OKDHS from imposing new fees on families that rely on child support.

State Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, said his measure will stop the OKDHS from further increasing the current three percent collection fee the agency is now charging parents who receive child support. Going forward, he said the Legislature would need to approve any increases.

“I did not believe it was fair to impose additional fees on people who are working hard to support their families,” Lowe said. He said the state agency opposed the change.

But Oklahoma Department of Human Services spokesman Jeff Wagner said the law is redundant. The Legislature already has the authority to reject fees and cost recovery plans that are submitted annually for their approval.

DHS proposed the three percent fee last year. However, the Legislature chose not to address it, instead relying on Gov. Mary Fallin for approval, he said.

“It’s not that the Department of Human Service was opposed to the legislation, it just appeared to us to be unnecessary because it did not change the rules related to fees and cost recovery,” he said.

To help restore budget and staffing cuts to the state agency, OKDHS implemented the child support fee in October 2017, which amounts to three percent of collections not to exceed $10 a month, he said.

The new fee is expected to generate about $1 million a year, Wagner said.

“It’s nowhere near the entire cost of the program,” he said. “It replaces some state funds that were cut from the program in years past.”

More than $4.4 million in state appropriations have been cut from the child support budget over the last three budget years, Wagner said. With the loss of federal matching money, the program has lost nearly $10 million in recent years, he said.

The federal government also charges Oklahoma families an additional $25 annual fee.

Almost 200,000 families have child support cases in Oklahoma.

Among those is Oklahoma City resident Renee Mack, who said the new fee — along with the $25 federal fee — costs her and her four children about $50 a month.

“I was so discouraged because there are things that our families need,” said Mack, whose kids rely on child support payments from the fathers. “And when money is taken away from those children, that might be an outfit, that might be food on the table,” she said. “We do not get a large portion to help our children anyway, but for the fathers to be charged and then again the mothers to be charged, it’s very unfair.”

Lowe said there wasn’t enough legislative support to reverse the current child support fees, so those will remain unchanged.

But he said he’s confident his measure will prevent new costs for parents.

“I think with this legislation, we have prevented increased fees on child support recipients throughout the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.