Small business and deadbeat dads

Government leaders keep telling us the engine of economic growth is small business.  They can’t wait to do more to encourage small business.  Then they force  small businesses to jump through hoops with complicated rules and paperwork.

Here is what one small business owner told me:

A few years ago, she learned she had to comply with a program called the New Hires Directory.   She is required to file a report, within 20 days of hiring a new employee, giving the employee’s name, address and social security number.

Immigration, you might be thinking.  Nope.  Child support.

The information is used by the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) to locate parents (usually but not always fathers) who are delinquent in their child support payments.

Hooray, you say.  Catch those deadbeat dads and make ‘em pay.

She started filing reports as required.  She is in a seasonal business using low-skilled manual laborers – not exactly the pick of the workforce.  A few of those workers are the very delinquent dads HSD is looking for.  Now the hard part begins.

She gets a notice telling her she has to garnish a portion of a certain worker’s wages, sending it to the state instead of paying the employee.  She has to do the work to set this up administratively.

When the worker learns his wages are going to be garnished, he quits.   After all, he’s a deadbeat.  Why would he work if he’s not going to get the money?

She has spent her time for nothing.  The abandoned children did not benefit, and now she is short a worker during her busy season.  She will have to hire somebody else and start over.

I notice that the HSD web site explains clearly how to file the initial report but doesn’t say anything (at least I couldn’t find it) about what happens afterwards.

A common question is why this program is needed when employers already give the same information in quarterly reports filed with the Department of Workforce Solutions.  The answer given is that quarterly reports are not fast enough.   Those slippery dads could be gone by the time the quarterly reports are received and processed.  That’s a reasonable answer, and catching deadbeat dads is a worthy goal, but it doesn’t ease the burden.  Big businesses are equipped to handle these administrative inconveniences.  For small businesses like this one, it’s a serious loss of time, energy and money.

I briefly considered whether the child support program could be linked to another program used to check out new employees, such as the E-Verify program of the Social Security Administration, which employers use to check on the validity of social security numbers.  But I found reports claiming that E-Verify is already overburdened, largely due to staffing reductions forced by federal budget cuts.

I wonder: How many times, on how many forms, sent to how many different agencies, for how many different purposes, does an employer have to report employees by name and social security number?  In this age of data bases, can government find a way to streamline, simplify and combine? Can government agencies undertake more of the grunt work instead of forcing employers to do it?

Making that change requires agencies to think and work across boundary lines with a real commitment to treating employers as valued customers rather than people who can be ordered around.  That, in turn, might require government agencies to hire more employees, not fewer, at least temporarily, and even to – gasp – send them out of the office on training programs so they can figure out how to collaborate.

Before government decides to save money, policy makers should be asking, “At whose expense?”

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2012

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