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Child support collection gets new bank

State changes to child support collections next year will switch where people pay child support and from where they receive checks, but will not change the Lawrence County Child Support Enforcement Agency’s mission, officials said.

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

State changes to child support collections next year will switch where people pay child support and from where they receive checks, but will not change the Lawrence County Child Support Enforcement Agency’s mission, officials said.

"It’s really only an internal structure change," said Lawrence County Department of Human Services director Buddy Martin, who oversees the CSEA.

The state is under a federal requirement to provide the new collection system, as a way to increase efficiency, Martin said.

The state Controlling Board last week approved the first two years of a five-year, $125 million unbid contract with Bank One to create a centralized system to collect support payments.

The new collection system will allow custodial parents to have payments deposited automatically into their bank accounts.

Having a bank account with Bank One, or at all, will not be required, though, Ohio Department of Human Services spokesperson Jon Allen said.

And, the collection system will not replace county bureaus, he said.

"The county agencies themselves will no longer be in the collection business as far as receiving money, but they will establish cases and locate parents and do other work," Allen said.

At the present time, each county agency collects child support money and when the state issues checks from Columbus, it draws that money from the account of each agency.

In the new centralized collection system, payments will be made to Bank One directly from those who must pay.

"They will collect the money and issue the check or initiate the direct deposit to recipients," Allen said.

That method will make the system more efficient because recipients no longer have to worry about county boundaries, and employers can send all paycheck withholdings to one place, he said.

"About 70 percent of child support comes through employer withholdings, and this will be an advantage to larger employers who might employ people from several areas," he added. "They will have only one bank to deal with."

Ohio and other states had faced an Oct. 1 deadline to put a system in place and federal fines of $4.7 million if they missed the deadline. Federal legislation moved the compliance date to April 2000, with fines beginning in September.

The Controlling Board voted 6-1 to approve a request by the Human Services Department for $14.7 million for fiscal year 2000 and $28.7 million for fiscal year 2001.

The system will go into effect April 1.

Jasmine Tismo, criminal non-support case advocate for county prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr.’s office, said the new system will not affect the office’s court cases.

"The only time we get involved is when not paying becomes a criminal offense," Ms. Tismo said. "But I would assume it would not do anything but positive things."

Paperwork might become less and victims might get checks more efficiently if they are deposited directly into checking accounts, she said.

"But a lot of victims we see are on their own and sometimes don’t have checking accounts, so that might make it tougher," she added.

Ruth Anne Delong, program director for the Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force and Helping Hands Haven, helps victims who are often dependent on child support. She agreed with Ms. Tismo.

"This will certainly affect our clients," Ms. Delong said. "The majority of the ones we deal with are on public assistance, so they don’t often have checking."

Direct deposit, and the centralized collection, could be more efficient, but it might worry some victims who pay rent and utilities by cash or money order, she added.

"To them, it’s a waste of money to pay for checks and the fees," Ms. Delong said. "My thought is why couldn’t they use cards like welfare has."

Instead of drawing from a food stamp account when used at a grocery store, a child support card could draw from ATMs or other places from an individual’s child support account, she theorized.

Meanwhile, Ohio had advertised for new collection system proposals in February 1998 but received only one response: a $218 million bid by Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin. The company has received similar contracts in other states, including Michigan, where Bank One is one of its subcontractors.

After six months of negotiations, Human Services turned the bid down as too expensive, Redman said.

With the Oct. 1 deadline to create the system looming, Gov. Bob Taft asked state Treasurer Joe Deters to help find a solution. Other states had developed their systems with state treasurers’ help.

Deters’ office selected Bank One because it had gone through the proposal process as a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin.

As the only state depository that went through the bid process, Bank One had a ”very comprehensive understanding” of what the requirements for the system were, said Kevin Talty, director of operations in the treasurer’s office.

– The Associated Press contributed to this story.