SC child support enforcement system takes more heat for delays

11/06/2013 7:31 PM

03/14/2015 6:35 AM

State senators say they are frustrated by delays in a problem-plagued computerized child support enforcement system and want to see a resolution to the issues to prevent millions more dollars from piling up in federal penalties.

“I think it’s ridiculous we’re in this position,” Sen. Billy O’Dell, a Ware Shoals Republican, told Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Social Services, at the end of a hearing Wednesday into DSS finances.

“We’ve got to figure out what we’ve got to do. Obviously, we’re not doing it right. We’re striking out every time and it’s costing us money. It’s crazy.”

Odell told Koller that he wasn’t blaming her for the problems because the state has been trying to build the system required by the federal government for decades.

“A CEO of a business would have been fired 15 times for this,” he said.

South Carolina remains the only state that hasn’t yet implemented an automated child support enforcement system as required by a 1988 federal law.

As a result, the state has incurred more than $115 million in federal penalties, according to a report submitted to lawmakers this summer about the project. Contractors have paid about $50 million of that, according to the report, and the state has paid the rest.

An ongoing procurement hearing that could last for several more weeks could determine if the state or the project’s third contractor that DSS fired this year will shoulder future penalties.

Koller didn’t go into much detail Wednesday because of the hearing and senators on the finance subcommittee that she appeared before told The Greenville News that they are frustrated and want to see the system completed.

“I think it’s a mess,” said Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat.

“This thing has been going since my children were born. One is 21 and the other is 18. I’ve yet to understand with the way technology works today why we can’t get our arms around this problem and bring it to closure. It’s embarrassing to our state and abuse of its taxpayers that we continue to pay millions of dollars in fines for something that should have been fixed a long time ago.”

Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper County Democrat, said the state is experiencing the same problems with information technology issues that other government agencies and private businesses are.

Sen. Thomas Alexander, a Walhalla Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said he remains frustrated over the delays.

“I think so much of it is contingent on where they are with that procurement hearing,” he said. “Hopefully it will get resolved sooner rather than later.”

The state may need almost six more years and $75 million for more federal penalties to complete the system, a lawyer representing state agencies said during opening arguments in the procurement hearing.

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