Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Support checks late this month

County blames new state system

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As many as 16,000 child support checks from Hamilton County this month are going out late.

        That means families who were waiting for a check Thursday might still be waiting today.

        “We are four business days behind,” Carol Watson, Hamilton County Child Support section chief, said Monday. “We process 3,000 to 4,000 checks every day.”

        While state law requires payments to be sent no more than 48 hours after the county receives them, officials are blaming the law for the delay.

        They say glitches in a new statewide payment processing system left them paying checks Monday that were dated Sept. 5.

        What's more, they told county commissioners that problems in implementing the new state system could cost Ohio more than $50 million in federal fines.

        “We have heard rumors that the state could be failing to meet the deadline,” Ms. Watson said.

        The state has until Oct. 1 to put the new processing system into place or face the doubling of a $28 million fine imposed last year for being out of compliance with the 1988 Family Support Act.

        “I don't even know what to say to that,” said Jon Allen, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. “The federal government will be the judge of whether we made it, not Hamilton County.”

        The county now collects support payments from parents and forwards those payments on to a child's guardian. Starting in October the state will be responsible for processing those payments.

        Mr. Allen said all of Ohio's 88 counties have been converted to the new system. After Oct. 1, federal officials will review it and make a decision about whether it meets Family Support Act standards.

        The penalty is based on a percentage of how much federal money the state took in during the year. Last year's fine was $28 million and it could be as much as $56 million this year, Mr. Allen said.

        “We are hopeful we will meet the deadline,” Mr. Allen said.

        But he did agree there have been problems with the system, including two computer crashes that kept the system down for almost two days since Aug. 29 and a planned “down” on Sept. 1.

        “We have heard from some of the counties,” he said, adding that the state did have its computer up on Saturday to allow counties extra time to process payments.

        After Oct. 1, the county will process only child support payments made by cash, credit cards and debit cards.

        Ms. Watson said when the county did not have to rely on the state, extra staff could be brought in and computers could be available on weekends to ensure prompt payments.

        “I don't have any authority over the state,” she said.


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