County pledges support to CSEA

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 7, 2003

It is a novel approach to dealing with an odd quirk of bureaucracy and keeping the wheels of government rolling in the process.

The Lawrence County Commission yesterday agreed to guarantee funds for the Child Support Enforcement Administra-tion, so it can continue its contract with the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

The CSEA, operating as part of the Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services, has usually had a contract with the Common Pleas Court for work performed by court employees on child support enforcement cases. When work was performed in the past, the court system would send a bill to the CSEA, which would use federal money funnelled through the state to pay a portion of the bill, typically about 67 percent. Under this system, it often took months before local officials would actually receive the money to pay the bill.

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Lawrence County ODJFS Director Buddy Martin said in the past, he would pay bills by juggling funds within various accounts.

Last year, that changed. A new law, which took effect last summer, now requires the CSEA to spend any money it receives from the state within three days or pay interest on it. This handicaps an already cash-strapped agency and prevented Martin from juggling funds to pay the bills.

"Basically, the state and federal governments don't put enough funds into CSEA to support the contracts and actual operation of it," Martin said. "It's an unfunded mandate. They tell the counties that we're responsible for all of this, but they don't send us the money to do it."

Because of the new law, the local office doesn't always have funds available to pay bills from the courts when the court sends them, so court officials wind up waiting months for payment for their services. Last year, common pleas officials waited for months for CSEA officials to get enough money to pay their bill.

Martin and Common Pleas Judge Richard Walton have found a way to make the system work in spite of the bureaucratic rules and regulations.

Walton yesterday asked the commission to essentially guarantee the courts' invoices to the CSEA. By guaranteeing the invoices, Martin can legally claim to have paid the bills and therefore get money from the state and federal governments faster than if he submits the bill to them and waits for them to pay it. The turnaround time on reimbursement for a paid bill is a matter of days, versus, often, a matter of months.

"The courts are trying to work with us on this," Martin said. "They do incur cost on this." Without some agreement on timely payment, the courts and the CSEA probably would not have a contract, and the CSEA would have to pay a filing fee whenever it needed to send a case to court, as in the case of child support agreement modifications. Martin said by guaranteeing, or "upfronting" the money, the county will not actually spend any money, it's essentially a paper shuffle aimed at making sure the system operates as smoothly as possible.

"The money never actually leaves the county general fund," Martin

explained. "Although it could be counted as obligated funds."