Friday, September 28, 2001

State might drop processing fee

Child-support agencies concerned

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Counties in Greater Cincinnati are worried that the federal government will force them to stop charging a 2 percent processing fee to paying parents in child-support cases.

        The loss of that money — an estimated $54 million statewide — could impede county governments' efforts to enforce child-support laws, say officials in Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties.

        Child-support enforcement agencies throughout the state could have to lay off large numbers of employees and reduce the services that enable families to receive child support. Those services include correcting the state's mistakes in collecting and distributing child-support payments, tracking down nonpaying parents, and enforcement such as withholding income.

        “That will hurt families,” said Dan Cade, executive director of the Butler County Child Support Enforcement Agency, or CSEA.

        Federal officials have told Ohio that they believe its policy of charging a 2 percent processing fee to paying parents violates federal regulations.

        The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is asking federal officials for clarification, said Dennis Evans, agency spokesman.

        The Ohio CSEA Directors Association has urged the state to reject that interpretation and is seeking help from state and federal legislators.

        “We're working with others to try to prevent this interpretation from taking effect,” said Mitch Bonham, the association's first vice president and the director of the Warren County CSEA.

        Kimberly Newsom, executive director of the Ohio CSEA Directors Association, said the elimination of processing fees would cause the counties' CSEA budgets to drop by 25 to 35 percent.

        “This comes at a time when people who rely on our services are expecting us to do a better job than we're doing now,” she said.

        The loss of processing fees and its matching federal money would cost Butler County $1.5 million a year and Warren County $500,000, county officials said.

        Hamilton and Clermont County officials said they haven't yet calculated the financial impact of losing the processing fees, but say they're concerned.

        “It's another cut we were not expecting,” said Lora Jollis, assistant director of the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services.

        Mr. Cade said that if the state stops charging the processing fees, he would have to cut about 30 of his agency's 90 employees.

        The Butler County commissioners instructed Administrator Derek Conklin to ask the prosecutor's office about the possibility of taking court action to prevent the federal government from eliminating the fees.

        The Ohio CSEA Directors Association is hoping to resolve the issue without going to court, Mr. Bonham said.


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