Sunday, March 11, 2001

Child support refunds bungled

Amounts, recipients wrong in some cases

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — In its rush to get refund checks totaling $1.14 million for about 8,300 child support cases in the mail Friday, the state refunded the wrong amounts or sent them to the wrong people in some cases, child support officials say.

        In Hamilton County, mistakes were made in nine of the 10 largest refunds, including one for more than $3,000. County workers stopped checking for mistakes because they were told the state wouldn't correct the first batch of refunds, said Mindy Good, director of communications for the county's Department of Job and Family Services.

        “The list includes too many people,” said Kimberly Newsom, executive director of the Ohio Child Support Enforcement Agency Directors Association. “Everyone who is supposed to get money back is on there, but so are a lot of others.”

        Cuyahoga County officials say 31 of the 41 largest child-support refunds for the Cleveland area were wrong, said Tom Hayes, administrator of Ohio's largest county.

        Jo Ann Davidson, interim director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said more than 300 cases were removed from the initial list of those to get refunds after county workers discovered errors. She acknowledged that it was possible that refunds were sent to people who weren't owed money.

        “They've told us they are erring to the up-side,” said Geraldine Jensen, president of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, a Toledo-based national advocacy organization that sued the state over the child support problems. “If there is a doubt, they're giving it back.”

        The checks cover money the state had withheld from families between October and January. Next week, the state intends to mail checks to families owed money from February.

        Roughly $5 million more will be returned once the state determines which families are owed money from October 1997 to September 2000.

        Davidson took over the department March 2 following the resignation of Jacqui Romer-Sensky, who came under fire for continuing to withhold money after a 1996 federal law prohibited states from denying overdue child support payments to parents on welfare.

        The agency also has been under intense criticism from support recipients because thousands of checks have been misdirected or lost since the state took over payments from counties last fall.


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