DHS error puts child support recipients in a bad check bind

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DHS error puts child-support

recipients in a bad-check bind

Glitch may make 'em bounce

By Lela Garlington

The Commercial Appeal

The Tennessee Department of Human Services and its contractors goofed big time last month when they sent more than a thousand double-payment child support checks to Shelby County parents.

Then DHS stopped payment on an untold number of checks that parents had already cashed, and now banks are charging service fees, business owners are mad and DHS officials say they're sorry.

Now state officials are working to correct the problem that they created when 1,275 checks were written on Oct. 21 and mailed to the custodial parents.

The problem got worse before it got better when the state stopped payment rather than allowing the parents a double payment and not sending them their next check.

Now state officials say businesses will be reimbursed for the checks they cashed. "The business honored the checks in good faith. We'll make payments to them as quickly as possible,'' said DHS spokesman Patricia Harris-Morehead.

The double payments are one of a laundry list of problems some parents have been facing after the state took over the collection and distribution of child support money on Oct. 1. A federal law required the state take over the system from local government.

Complaints have ranged from parents not getting their checks timely or being sent the checks that aren't theirs and callers being unable to get through to the toll-free customer service number.

Instead of 250 court clerks in the state handling child support payments, now every state has a central collection and distribution unit and a customer services division.

State officials have decided any remaining checks that have yet to be cashed or deposited will be processed without having the payments stopped.

"Unfortunately, a human error was made,'' said Harris-Morehead. "We sympathize and apologize that this new process is causing these problems.''

What happened?

A worker with Anderson Consulting Co., which installed the statewide child support computer system, sent double payments to parents living in Shelby County.

No one caught the error until the checks had already been mailed out. Once officials realized their error, assistant commissioner of administrative services Robert Bumbalough and his staff decided to stop payments on the checks.

Each week Ruth Irick and her workers at Getwell Liquors cash child-support checks from customers she knows.

So far, almost $800 from four state-issued checks have failed to clear. "Right now, I'm about to go crazy,'' said Irick, who fears she may have as many as 100 bad state-issued checks.

"When I called Nashville and asked how am I going to get my money back, they said they haven't decided how they're going to handle this. Now, that's real comforting isn't it?''

But DHS spokesman Harris-Morehead said officials decided Wednesday what they're going to do. Any business that lost money and can show proof of the stopped check will be reimbursed immediately.

Linda Nesbitt, a secretary with the city's internal auditing division, knew the amount of $212 wasn't correct but she thought it was a back payment owed to her, not an overpayment, when she deposited it in her City of Memphis Credit Union account, then unknowingly wrote a bad check.

"It's really did put me in a bind,'' she said. With the money, Nesbitt bought her 10-year-old daughter a winter coat, new school uniforms and socks from Burlington Coat Factory and wrote a check for $168. She's hoping her overdraft protection will protect her in writing a check that likely will bounce.

Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk Bob Martin has been trying to help the mothers, businesses and credit unions who have been steadily calling his office for help.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 05, 1999


It's astounding how badly the new systems are failing, and even more breathtaking how badly the clueless cold-blooded government officials are handling the snafus.

Ready for a Revolution?

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), November 05, 1999.


Hardly. I've been in this business a LONG time....

-- Dennis (djolson@cherco.net), November 05, 1999.

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