A graduate of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law who is credited with demonstrating leadership that has helped improve the lives of many children and families in Washington, D.C., recently was honored by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Benidia A. Rice, Class of 1984, received the Commissioner's Award for Exemplary Leadership from Margot Bean, head of the Office of Child Support Enforcement in the Administration for Children & Families. Rice, Director of the District of Columbia's Child Support Services Division, accepted the award at the 18th National Child Support Enforcement Training Conference on Tuesday, Aug. 26, in Washington, D.C.
"Ms. Rice is an innovative leader who has overseen remarkable improvement of the District's child support agency, in a few short years, on its way to becoming a first-rate program, and she has earned the respect of her peers as well as her staff," Bean said. "Her contributions have helped better the lives of thousands of children and families in the Nation's Capital."
Paul Schiff Berman, Dean of the College of Law, said Rice represents the model graduate, combining excellence in practice with a commitment to community service and social change.
"Benidia has transformed an historically underperforming agency and in the process has helped thousands of children in need," Berman said. "We could not be more proud of her accomplishments."
Rice, who also is a district deputy attorney general, said she was honored to receive the award.
"I'm quite pleased to be the recipient of such an award, especially because it's been a tough five years, and we have the opportunity now to look back and see some of our successes," said Rice, who was hired to re-engineer the failing office in 2004. "Whenever you're brought into an organization to be the change agent, it's a difficult process. And you find that, what works in one jurisdiction, doesn't necessarily work in another."
Before Rice arrived, the office was failing every federal performance measure in child support enforcement. She has since implemented innovative approaches to improve services, make available an earned tax credit law to help those paying child support and assist incarcerated parents in modifying their child-support orders when returning to their families.
"The most rewarding part of my job is when we get a letter from a grown child, saying `thank you' because five days before he was to leave for college, not knowing how he would pay for it, his family received a check for x amount from the district in the form of a child-support payment. Or when you get a non-custodial parent in the waiting room, and you have provided them with the services they need to succeed, for the first time, and they say, `It's not that I didn't want to pay, I just didn't know how to pay'," Rice said. "In this business, that keeps all of us going."
Rice said her staff and the District of Columbia Superior Court have been working over the past year with parents coming out of jail, providing them with substance abuse counseling and treatment, employment skills and job placement services. Later this fall, her office will launch an on-site job counseling office to help parents find work that offers decent wages.
Rice is no stranger to awards: a year ago, her office received the Most Improved Program Award from the National Child Support Enforcement Association, primarily for its progress in identifying neglectful fathers and securing new child-support orders.
Before moving to Washington, D.C., Rice worked in tax law and also spent 10 years in the Arizona Attorney General's Office, where she found her passion was working on behalf of families.