Parent Pay program declared unlawful

This article is excerpted from ENVOY, December 1994-January 1995

by Sandy Macdonald

Many Washington parents got an early Christmas present this year when the state Departent of Social and Health Services (DSHS) agreed to stop collecting child support from parents whose children with developmental disabilities live in foster care or group homes.  An estimated 600 parents will not be forced to pay child support, and many will receive refunds.

WPAS filed a class action lawsuit in the state Superior Court, Thurston County, in July 1994 for all parents affected by an amended state law known as the Parent Pay program.  That program, hidden in 1993 budgetary legislation, allowed the state to collect child support from parents of children who were eligible for care in a Residential Habilitation Center, but lived in a foster care or other community residential homes.  The Division of Child Support, the DSHS child support collection agency, began enforcement actions in early 1994. 

In its lawsuit, WPAS claimed that DSHS violated the state and U.S. constitutions and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  When it amended the statute, the Legislature created an unfair distinction between two groups of children who should have been treated equally, thus denying the parents equal protection of the law.  In addition, the amended law placed a surcharge or tax on the services received by children in community-based homes, violating the ADA.

According to the November 7 agreement and Court Order, DSHS must cease collection of child support, reimburse parents for what has been collected, stop reporting child support obligations established against the parents to credit agencies and credit bureaus, and notify credit agencies and bureaus that such obligations are extinguished, and that liens have been released.   DSHS also must identify all members of the class, so that DSHS and WPAS may send a joint letter to all class members in early January 1995, advising them of the agreement.

*Editor's Note: Disability Rights Washington was formerly known as Washington Protection and Advocacy System.


ENVOY Credits

ENVOY Editor:  Nicole Elger

ENVOY Staff Contributors:  Laura Allen,  Elizabeth Ambrose, David Lord, Sandy Macdonald, Gillian Maguire, Betty Schwieterman , Mark Stroh

Other Contributors:  Thomas C. Fox

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