A statewide system for enforcing child-support payments already two decades in development could need another four years to start working, officials said Tuesday.
S.C. Department of Social Services officials said they have a new plan for completing the long-delayed project – concluding years spent in litigation and millions spent in fines and development costs.
The state has been working since Congress passed a law in 1992 requiring all states to build a statewide system for enforcing the collection of child-support payments.
But two vendors and lawsuits later, South Carolina has been fined nearly $124 million in penalties since 1998 for its still incomplete child-support enforcement system.
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The state also has spent about $60 million to develop the child-support enforcement system and accompanying family court-case management system. The federal government kicked in $95 million.
But on Tuesday, Katie Morgan, Social Services’ child-support enforcement director, told a Senate budget-writing panel that the end of the project could be in sight.
Morgan said Social Services wants to adopt a system similar to the one used in Delaware – a state with a similar judicial and technology standards. The Northeast state launched its system last year, built to the federal government’s most recent standards, Morgan said.
If the new plan gets federal and state approval, it could take an estimated four years to complete, she said.
Social Services was working with Hewlett-Packard to create a system for South Carolina, but fired the tech giant last summer for failing to deliver on its contract. The incomplete Hewlett-Packard system could be finished, but that would cost more than the new plan of getting a system similar to the one developed for Delaware, Morgan said.
Senators on the panel said lawmakers have been frustrated with delays in the project. And news that South Carolina could adopt a similar system used in another state added to that frustration Tuesday.
The panel’s chairman, Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, said that lawmakers have asked repeatedly for years why the state could not find a working system in another state and copy it.
“And repeatedly we’ve been (told), ‘No, that cannot work,’ ” Alexander said. “Now I'm hearing in 2014, ‘You know what, we're going to go and use the Delaware system.’ ... What has changed?”
Morgan said an early-2000s study showed that transferring a system from another state would not be cost-effective. But technology is much better now, she said.
Completing the project continues to carry a high cost for the state.
Social Services is requesting $22 million in the state’s annual budget starting July 1 to develop a new system and pay fines – a worst-case-scenario cost estimate based on a preliminary study, Morgan said.
About $12 million of the money will be used as matching dollars to secure about $23 million in federal money for the project. The rest will go toward development and paying fines, which were more than $8 million in 2014.
So far, the state has paid $73 million in fines with the remainder paid by the two companies hired to build the system. The state’s first vendor, Unisys Corporation, paid more than $17 million and left the project in 1998. Hewlett-Packard, which the state hired in 2007, has paid more than $33 million in fines.
The state and Hewlett-Packard are nearing a settlement in their lawsuit, Morgan said.