Thursday, March 08, 2001

Aides wanted memo rewritten


Taft's office sought specifics

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Gov. Bob Taft's top aides asked the state's former human services director to rewrite a memo explaining problems with the state's troubled child-support system, a Taft spokeswoman said.

        The Feb. 10 memo by Jacqueline Romer-Sensky didn't set an appropriate deadline for dealing with the problems and was “ambiguously worded,” spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey said Wednesday.

        Ms. Romer-Sensky, former director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, resigned Friday after weeks of controversy related to the department's child-support system.

        In the memo's first version, Ms. Romer-Sensky said she would have a “methodology” in place by April 1 to address the state's withholding of millions of dollars in child support payments.

        Ms. Sharkey said that was unacceptable, because the governor wanted a plan in place as soon as possible.

        Mr. Taft's chief of staff, Brian Hicks, and the governor's executive assistant for health and human services, Greg Moody, also were concerned about ambiguous language in the memo, Ms. Sharkey said.

        In asking for the change, Mr. Hicks and Mr. Moody wanted to make clear that while Mr. Taft knew there were many problems with the department and the child support system, he was not aware that money had been withheld from parents.

        Ms. Sharkey said the original memo did not make that clear.

        Department spokesman Jon Allen said the memo was an issue between Ms. Romer-Sensky and the governor's office. Ms. Romer-Sensky could not be reached for comment. A message was left at her home.

        Ms. Romer-Sensky's resignation came one day after a national advocacy group sued the state. The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, based in Toledo, said the state illegally withheld millions of dollars in child support payments from needy families and should be forced to return the money immediately.

        The state said it had not reprogrammed its computer system to stop intercepting the payments. A 1996 federal law prohibits states from taking back payments intended for welfare recipients.

        The state has acknowledged that it might owe parents about $6 million in back child support. ACES said the amount could be as much as $13 million.

       



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