Thursday, January 18, 2001

Drop support plan, state urged

Official pushes to let counties send checks

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Don Thomas, Hamilton County's director of human services, gave some advice to state officials about how they can fix their troubled child support computer system:

        Go back to allowing counties to distribute the money.

        Mr. Thomas wrote a letter to state officials in early January with 10 recommendations for fixing problems with a system that has left thousands of parents across the state waiting weeks for child support checks.

        All of Ohio's 88 counties have switched to the computer system called Support Enforcement Tracking System, which collects and distributes child support payments from Columbus.

        Hamilton County switched to SETS in October. Before that, the county handled the transactions.

        Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Human Services Department, said every one of the county's 51,000 cases in which a parent regularly pays into the system has experienced at least one problem under SETS. Payments are not made in the county's other 27,000 child support cases.

        “What a mess,” Ms. Good said. “Every single paying case has had some problem, even if it's just a late check.”

        Human services representatives from across the state went to Columbus on Wednesday to discuss the problems with SETS and try to find solutions.

        Lora Jollis, Hamilton County's representative at the meeting, has said she's not optimistic that a solution will be found soon.

        “It depends on the amount of resources the state is willing to devote to the problem,” Ms. Jollis has said.

        Other suggestions in Mr. Thomas' letter include:

        • Ask the General Assembly for funding to hire people so payments can be processed seven days a week, as counties did when they fell behind.

        • Set up emergency programs, using welfare money, to help people who do not receive their checks.

        • Tell the public what you're doing to fix the problem and stop blaming others.

        Commissioner Todd Portune said counties must continue pressing the issue with state officials to make them respond.

        “It's important for us to make a change in the way they're doing business,” Mr. Portune said. “We need to make the case to the state and to Congress, if need be.”

        Jon Allen, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Human Services, said about 24,000 people statewide have not yet received December child support checks.


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