S.C. faces losses of $17.5M (computer problems)

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S.C. faces losses of $17.5M

CHILD SUPPORT SYSTEM: S.C. officials have asked for a hearing with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying that the state has tried to install a computerized child-support collection system.

Monday, November 22, 1999

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - South Carolina could lose $17.5 million in federal money for its child support program for failing to put a new computerized collection system in place, federal officials say. An additional $100 million in federal money for welfare programs could be cut if the system is not put in place, said Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The state should not be penalized because it made a good-faith effort to put the new system in place, said state officials, who have requested a hearing with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "We don't believe South Carolina erred in any way that would cause the federal government the need to sanction us," said Larry McKeown, head of child support at the state Social Services Department. South Carolina, Alaska and the District of Columbia are the only jurisdictions putting money on the line, Kharfen said. Alaska and the District of Columbia are closer to having operational computer systems than South Carolina, he said. South Carolina has "made the judgment they have a compelling enough reason they can persuade us not to impose such a drastic action, but it's a gamble," Kharfen said. "They're gambling with kids." Thirty-nine state systems are operational and one state is waiting for the outcome of a review, Kharfen said. Eight states whose computer systems are not ready have chosen a federal penalty that docks states a percentage for each year it misses the Oct. 1, 1997, deadline. South Carolina has 231,600 cases of unpaid child support with $366 million in payments due. Nationally, 30 million children are owed $50 billion in unpaid child support. Federal officials say the new systems will increase child-support collection rates and help track delinquent parents across state lines. The current state system, where county clerks of court administer child support checks, works fine, McKeown said. The state's collection rate is 58 percent, above the national average of 38 percent, he said. The U.S. government is more interested in pursuing its own plan than what's best for children, he said. The state hired Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa., to build a $43 million system. South Carolina said Unisys never delivered a usable computer network. Unisys said it did. The result was a court battle. South Carolina has abandoned the Unisys system and hired American Management Systems to design a new network, McKeown said. Earlier this month, Gov. Jim Hodges flew to Washington to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. They discussed the program, but the matter was not resolved. There is no risk of children missing support checks if the federal government withholds the $17.5 million, said Virginia Williamson, general counsel for the state agency. Child-support advocacy groups say South Carolina is using children as bargaining chips. "I don't think the children should be taken hostages in this dispute," said Joan Entmacher, a vice president at the National Women's Law Center. "It's just not fair." New computer systems do not mean better service. In North Carolina, a new system that went online Oct. 1 soon broke down, leaving thousands waiting for payments. But Entmacher says in the long run the new systems are better. "Clearly there are problems in transition, but it's going to make the program much more effective," she said.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 22, 1999


Sounds messy. You think any of this will be resolved in the legal system next year? bbwwwwaaaaahahahahahahahaha

-- docket stacked (lines@forming.century), November 23, 1999.

Neat - One bureacracy (which is more successful than the national average at getting kid's their money) is getting in court with a second bureacracy for not following some arbitrary rules; and while fighting the computer company to get the first bureacracy's program fixed!

... the only thing more stupid than a computer with a program is a bureacrat with a lawyer in tow.

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Marietta, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 23, 1999.

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