New NC Child Support Payment System Hosed... : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

"I think we'll be dealing with this for months,"

R. *********************************************

Complaints mount over child support Payment problems unresolved

By ANN DOSS HELMS Frustration is turning to outrage for tens of thousands of N.C. families as child-support delays drag out another week and state officials acknowledged that problems with the new centralized collection system are worse than they reported last week.

The state's top child-support official, who said last week that everything would be back on track by Monday or Tuesday, said Wednesday that the system is still backed up and payments have been delayed to as many as 240,000 families. The company that started processing child support for 600,000 N.C. families on Sept. 24 has doubled its staff and computer equipment, and should be caught up next week, said Barry Miller, chief of the N.C. Child Support Enforcement Section.

Cindy Farley of Pineville was waiting Wednesday for a child-support check due two weeks ago. "I am squeezing pennies to buy groceries and pay certain bills, and on other bills I am getting late charges added because I can't pay on time," she said. "My children shouldn't have to suffer because of this and neither should I."

Sandra Verley, an Iredell mother of three, agreed: "Patience doesn't buy groceries."

The effects of the delays will continue to ripple through local enforcement systems even after the problems are fixed, local and state officials say. Parents who sent checks to Raleigh on time may get late notices, and efforts to collect from the real delinquents may be delayed.

"I think we'll be dealing with this for months," said Martha Curran, clerk of Superior Court in Mecklenburg County. Her office, which used to take payments and is still responsible for enforcement, is getting hundreds of calls a day from angry, frustrated families, she said.

State officials originally blamed "start-up problems" in the new system, which requires all payments to go through Raleigh instead of through county clerks of court. But Wednesday Miller offered details of more specific problems:

The state underestimated the volume of checks coming in by at least one-third. They expected 12,000 a day; instead they've averaged 15,000 and peaked at 30,000 a day. "I'm not quite sure what happened," Miller said.

The new system of payment coupons has not worked well. It's supposed to work sort of like a bill - the state sends a self-addressed envelope and a coupon saying how much is due. The parent then writes a check and encloses the coupon with the payment. But many coupons were not mailed on time, and many parents who tried to do the right thing by mailing checks without coupons didn't include the information needed to process them. The state has 18 people sorting through checks that don't have proper identification.

Miller said coupons won't reach parents until a day or two after the payments are due. The parents can pay on time without a coupon, or wait for it and still fall well within the 30-day period before they're declared delinquent, he said.

"Hindsight being 20/20, we'd have never bothered with coupons, considering the angst they've caused people," Miller said.

The system would have worked better if the company processing the checks, Systems and Methods Inc., had built its database before it started taking payments, instead of trying to do it as checks came in, Miller said. Miller apologized again for the financial hardships caused by the federally mandated system (South Carolina has been exempted from most of the centralized collection changes required by federal law). He said the hardships should be over soon, and the new system is expected to save taxpayers $19million a year. Systems and Methods Inc. will pick up the bill for the extra hours state employees are putting in to iron out problems, he added.

Families voiced anger and amazement that the state could be ambushed by such problems. Surely, they said, everyone knew how huge the system was and had months to prepare for it.

"It does not take a brain surgeon. It takes one person with a calculator," said Cathy Dahlquist of Washington state, who gets payments for her three children from her ex-husband in North Carolina. This is the first time in seven years her payments have been late, she said.

Paul Zeman Jr., a Charlotte father who pays support, said he saw trouble coming as soon as he got letters about the change this summer. The letter said payment coupons would arrive and must accompany checks sent after Sept. 24, he said.

He received no coupons and started calling the Child Support Enforcement section's toll-free number for advice. The lines were jammed with callers; it took him 39 tries to get through. He was told to mail his check without the coupon, and he did so on Sept. 30. He also wrote a letter to Gov. Jim Hunt, telling him he feared problems with the system would end up making him look like a deadbeat dad.

As of Tuesday, his ex-wife had not gotten his check, he said, but he got a letter from Raleigh dated Oct. 7 telling him he owed the money. "Did I predict it or what?" he said.

Congress required states to centralize collection to simplify things for large employers who have to send withheld wages to employees' children in several counties.

However, even some N.C. employers are apparently confused by the new system. Miller said some of the checks that haven't been processed for lack of complete information come from employers. If information is lacking on even one worker, the whole payment is held up until staff in Raleigh can track down the information to credit the payment properly.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contact Ann Doss Helms at (704) 358-5033 or

-- Roland (, October 14, 1999


El Linko...

-- Roland (, October 14, 1999.

Poor systems design... The child support agency really fouled this one up by failing to adequately research and design the necessary system functions. Obviously, it was the agency itself that failed to learn what was necessary and clearly state it to the system designers... Want to bet that it will be the IT team that takes the heat? And not the true culprits (agency management)?

But having dealt with a similar system in California, I am not surprised. The system "designer" there was also clueless about system design.

-- Mad Monk (, October 14, 1999.

For divorced couples with children: if the noncustodial parent lives any significant distance away from their children when Y2K hits, don't expect to receive any child support checks for a long time (months or years). I predict this will be true even if the NCP wants to pay. For the ones who don't want to, well, if they are helping support a 12-year-old, the child may be past highschool-age before any authority again can push an NCP to pay support.

my site:

-- MinnesotaSmith (, October 14, 1999.

Frustration is turning to outrage ... delays drag out ... officials acknowledged problems are worse than they reported ... system is still backed up ... delayed ... squeezing pennies ... getting late charges added ... can't pay on time ... suffer ...

... effects of the delays will continue to ripple through ... even after the problems are fixed ... dealing with this for months ... angry, frustrated families ... blamed "start-up problems" in the new system ... angst ... hardships ...

Families voiced anger and amazement that the state could be ambushed by such problems. Surely, they said, everyone knew how huge the system was and had months to prepare for it ...

"It does not take a brain surgeon. It takes one person with a calculator" ... trouble coming ... confused by the new system ... information is lacking ...


-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, October 14, 1999.

Thank God I had that vasectomy so this can never happen to me, THANK GOD! And thank you for not breeding.

-- doktorbob (, October 14, 1999.

Ashton & Leska - thanks for that one .... I'm still laffin'. peace, Dan

-- Dan G (, October 14, 1999.

Dan, you are most welcome :-) We are praying for God's mercy on all children, that somehow they not suffer the extent of the monster the adults have wrought.

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, October 14, 1999.

nominee for Famous Last Words award-

"I'm not quite sure what happened," Miller said.

-- Sam (, October 14, 1999.

Same problem here in Tn. I was on the phone with some lady in Nashville concerning my children's child support.

First, they couldn't find the case number.

Second, when they finally did find it, had someone elses children listed as mine.

It's 3 weeks late...still no check. However, they did say that they had it there, they had just assigned a docket number and I should be getting it soon..still, another week has gone by since I last spoke with them and still no check.

-- Kallie (, October 15, 1999.

It's starting ... 11 weeks before The Big One.

-- the Fat Lady (I'm@Singing.Now), October 15, 1999.

Child Support system, should be non-essential. If you breed you are responsible for the off spring until they are of age or able to fend for themselves. Who told these people they could reproduce and not be responsible!

-- nurse (, October 15, 1999.

LOL Nurse,

You are SO right!! How could I forget that I reproduced these children all by myself!

Laughing aside.. I don't DEPEND on the child support in order to provide for my children. I am responsible for them. : ) I could care less if their father PAID child support, however, I think the original posting was about how the SYSTEM has been screwed up.

*Looking at the BEAUTIFUL children I produced...all by myself.*

-- Kallie (, October 15, 1999.


Perhaps you are trying to be ironically amusing. Please bear in mind the the state has decreed that the non-custodial parent must make payments to the state, not the custodial parent directly.

The people that cannot get their money are trying to get payment from the state from a spouse that IS being responsible.

You sound a tad sanctimonious...


-- Roland (, October 15, 1999.

Kallie, it's wonderful that you were able to reproduce alone. I was not talking about one parents,but both parents.Why is it necessary for the gov. to make/inform parents that they have to support their children, who told them they could just stop supporting their children when they felt like it!It shows the irresponsibility of parents in the USA, I would be ashamed for myself, my family and most of all for my children if the gov had to tell me to pay my child support and how much to pay. What has happened to common sense? It will be the same story in 2000 "my kids are hungry & cold, I need help from the gov. I didn't know when they said to prepare that it meant for my children too"

-- nurse (, October 15, 1999.

latest update...

Child support checks in mail State sends out emergency funds

By ANN DOSS HELMS North Carolina is sending emergency checks to the tens of thousands of families whose child support has been stalled by a month-old centralized collection system.

And state officials now agree with what angry parents have said for weeks: The system should have been piloted on a small scale, even if it meant breaking federal rules that required a central collection system by Oct.1.

"We should have ignored those rules and done this right," said David Bruton, N.C. secretary of health and human services. "There's no excuse for what's happened to families as a result of this failure."

Bruton promised a full review of what went wrong - after the system is caught up and working right. Officials wouldn't estimate Tuesday how long that might be, noting that previous estimates had been wrong.

"The people of this state, especially the families who depend on child support, deserve an explanation of what went wrong," Bruton said.

Under the old child support system, parents sent their payments to the clerk of court in the county where the payment was to be made.

Under the centralized system, the state handles collections and payments. It's supposed to work sort of like a bill: the state sends a self-addressed envelope and a coupon saying how much is due.

The parent then writes a check and encloses the coupon with the payment.

The constant flow of payments - and the struggle to keep up with problems that range from busy phone lines to computer shutdowns - make it impossible to say how many of the 600,000 families who receive child support have been hit by delays, spokesman David Daughtry said Tuesday.

But officials say the system, which was supposed to process checks within 24 hours, has been behind since it started, sometimes by as much as 11 days.

In the first month of operation, the central system has distributed about half of the $50million a month officials projected - and they now say they underestimated the volume of payments.

Among the problems and proposed solutions are:

About $1.4million in payments have arrived in Raleigh but do not contain enough information to identify who should receive the money. The state and the company that contracted to handle the project, Systems and Methods Inc., have people working three shifts to identify those checks.

Interim checks are automatically being issued in cases where the employer withholds child support from a parent's wages, but those payments have been stalled in Raleigh. The amount due is calculated based on the previous three months of payment, and sent to the family that should receive the money. The state will be reimbursed as it processes the payments. If a parent has paid more than the interim check, the excess will immediately be forwarded to the family. If the state overpaid, it will withhold the overpayment from the next check.

The state is trying to set up a similar system for families in which the parents make their own payments, without paycheck withholding. If families can show a history of regular payments in the prior three months, the state will advance the money for payments that are delayed. The situation will be tougher if the ex-spouse has a spotty payment history, Daughtry said, but if families can show proof that payments have been made, the state will make sure they get the money. "We're not being hard-nosed about this," he said. "If there is a benefit of a doubt here, we're bending."

The state is sending all payments by Federal Express, as late as 8 p.m. each day, to get them to families as quickly as possible, Daughtry said.

The state has added 24 more telephone lines, trying to end the constant busy signals that many callers report when they have tried to call toll-free numbers for help.

The state is asking utilities, banks and merchants to be lenient with customers who are short of money because of the delays. "I apologize to all of the families who have suffered hardships," Bruton said. "I realize apologies don't buy groceries. That's why we have also put together a plan to help people who are adversely affected."

Federal law required states to have a centralized collection system in place by Oct.1 (South Carolina received an exemption), partly to make paying easier for large employers who have to forward workers' support payments to families in several counties.

State officials say they underestimated the number of payments that would come through by at least one-third, and weren't well enough prepared to handle such a huge change.

The cost of adding computer equipment and phone lines and paying overtime should be picked up by Systems and Methods Inc., not N.C. taxpayers, Daughtry said.

---------------------------------------------------------------------- ----------

-- Roland (, October 27, 1999.


Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Dome: Payment problem gets study

State Sen. Eric Reeves, a Raleigh Democrat, says the General Assembly's newly created Joint Select Committee on Information Technology will investigate problems with the state Department of Health and Human Services' new child-support collection system. The system, which distributes all support payments through Raleigh instead of through court clerks in individual counties, has been widely criticized for delays in delivering the money owed to families. In recent weeks, parents have made hundreds of angry phone calls to state officials, complaining of unpaid bills and children going without necessities. "As you know, this project was not well-coordinated, and mothers with children are suffering the consequences," said Reeves, who will co-chair the information technology committee. "In my opinion, this implementation represents the worst of the 'old way' of doing business in the state of North Carolina." Reeves also said a law that takes effect in January will require state agencies to implement new programs with better planning, coordination, oversight and accountability. HHS Secretary David Bruton has apologized for the delays. He said the state should have run a pilot program to test the new system before statewide implementation. The program's administrators underestimated the volume of checks that would be processed through a centralized system, he said, adding that the state has hired more personnel and added computers to help clear the backlog.

Farewell to tax gadfly

Friends of legislative gadfly June Horvitz threw her a farewell party Tuesday night. Horvitz, who became a familiar figure in the halls of state government during her 17-year battle to cut the state food tax, is moving to Boca Raton, Fla. on Nov. 18 to be closer to her brother and his family. She had originally planned an April move, but her brother persuaded her to move South before winter. Horvitz's cause prevailed. The General Assembly repealed the final two cents of the state's portion of the food tax last year. Horvitz said she plans to make a quick transition to Florida by joining the Federated Republican Women's Club and checking in on Florida's legislature. "I'm going over to Tallahassee and attend some sessions," she said. "I'll see what's going on there."

Helms lauds Chafee

Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms of Raleigh was among senators praising the late Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., who died Sunday. "I never heard him speak a harsh word about anyone," Helms said of the moderate Republican who sought to bridge the gap between lawmakers of both parties. Helms also noted that Chafee, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, was "demonstrably willing to give his life for his country."

Compiled by Matthew Eisley and Lynn Bonner. Eisley can be reached at or 829-4538.

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 27, 1999.

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