Sunday, March 04, 2001

Resignation not enough, parents say

It won't pay child support

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Some parents dependent on child-support payments are skeptical that a shake-up in Ohio's Job and Family Services Department, which owes millions in back payments to parents, will bring much relief.

        Friday's resignation of Jacqueline Romer-Sensky, the department head, will not keep support checks from getting lost or arriving late, they said.

        “Nobody should think that this is the end of the problem,” said Terri Murrie, 44, of Cincinnati, who feels blessed to have a savings account to fall back on. “The computer system is at fault and this woman isn't responsible. ... It's becoming obvious that there's a big problem and something has to be done.”

        Kris Heindorf of Hamilton, who receives child support for her 5-year-old boy, Aa ron, hasn't received a check since December. She doesn't know whether to blame her ex-husband or the new system.

        “Somebody needs to address (the problems),” she said. “It's awful that people aren't getting their child support.”

        Ms. Romer-Sensky had come under increasing criticism for a problem-plagued statewide system of collecting and distributing child-support payments that began in October.

        Switching from Ohio's county-run system cost more than $250 million in federal and state funds for comput ers and personnel. The state has also incurred $50 million in federal fines for missing deadlines in launching the new system.

        Last month, Gov. Bob Taft ordered Ms. Romer-Sensky to explain the back-payment problems and to devise a solution.

        Recently, a national advocacy group, Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, sued the state because of problems with the new system.

        The lawsuit claims the state illegally withheld millions of dol lars in child-support payments from needy families and should be forced to return the money immediately.

        At a Saturday news conference, Mr. Taft announced the formation of a review team that will assess the department's work in child support, job-matching computer systems and employment services. Jim Conrad, administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, will serve as the team's chairman.

        Mr. Conrad has been director of the Bureau of Employment Services and the Department of Hu man Services. The agencies were merged as the Department of Job and Family Services eight months ago under the direction of Ms. Romer-Sensky, who had been in charge of the human services department.

        The state acknowledges it might owe parents $6 million in back child support. ACES says the amount could be $13 million.

        Mr. Taft, scheduled to arrive in Brazil today for the first stop in a two-week trade trip to South America, said he accepts responsibility for the problems, but rejected arguments the merger was a mistake.

        “At the end of the day, I am convinced that this merger will become a national model of effective employment and family support services in the years ahead,” he said.

        State Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, criticized Mr. Taft.

        “He should be here in the state of Ohio dealing with the problems of the present,” he said. “These people are trying to feed (and) trying to clothe their children ... (and) the governor doesn't seem to understand that this is truly an emergency for many people.”


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