Sunday, November 05, 2000

State late with support checks


New system to track payments cited as reason

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Some Ohio parents waiting for child-support payments say the biggest deadbeat of them all is not the other parent, it's the state.

        The state computer system that sends out child-support payments was down for much of this week, resulting in angry calls to support agencies from parents who were getting the money either late or not at all.

        Franklin County's child support enforcement agency fielded more than 2,000 calls Thursday alone.

        “I estimate 70 percent were asking about their payments,” said Kim Collins, client information supervisor for the agency.

        County workers said they couldn't tell until Friday afternoon whether clients had received their money.

        The agency switched to a new statewide payment system known as SETS — for Support Enforcement Tracking System — on Oct. 1. It was down from 6 p.m. Tuesday until about 11:30 a.m. Friday.

        “We certainly created a customer-service challenge for the counties this week because SETS was down,” said John Allen, a spokesman for the state Department of Job and Family Services, which runs the system.

        Donna Calame of Wooster said she was forced to call United Way for help when her $265 biweekly payment didn't arrive.

        “I cannot operate like this,” she told the Daily Record. “If I don't have that (money), we don't eat.”

        SETS is designed to be inaccessible at county child-support offices on the first day of each month, while information is updated and late notices are produced for people who failed to pay support the previous month.

        Mr. Allen said the process took longer than expected this month. He said the department was planning to issue 140,000 checks Friday and Saturday to catch up with the backlog.

        All Ohio counties became part of SETS last month, meeting a federal requirement that each state have a central computer that tracks collections and payments of child support. Those jobs used to be done by individual counties.

        The state's system has had problems from the start and could lose 25 percent of its federal matching funds to run the program if the problems aren't solved, said Michael Kharfen, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

        Ohio has been fined $43.5 million since 1998 for not complying with federal requirements for collecting and distributing child-support payments, Mr. Kharfen said.

        Support payments in Ohio are gathered and posted by Bank One under a $125 million, five-year contract. Each weekday, a record of the bank's work is supposed to be entered on a computer that writes support checks and makes wire transfers for direct deposits.

        According to state law, money received is supposed to be sent out within two working days. Mr. Allen said that won't happen in the case of money that's been sitting at Bank One since Tuesday.

       



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