Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Child support system changing


Officials fear new computer will slow payments

BY DAN KLEPAL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        On Friday, all of Hamilton County's 78,000 child support cases will be converted to a statewide computer system that officials fear will slow cash payments to parents who really need the money.

        The state is being forced to have all 88 counties on the Support Enforcement Tracking System (SETS) by October under threat of millions of dollars in fines.

        Hamilton County will be just the second metropolitan county to convert.

        Even if everything goes smoothly, parents receiving child support can expect a couple of days delay before checks hit the mailbox, because checks that used to be cut in Hamilton County will now come from Columbus.

        Some other counties have found checks made out in wrong amounts, sent to wrong addresses.

        In some cases, the checks aren't sent at all because of foul-ups with new case numbers or dozens of other problems.

        Don Thomas, director of the county's Department of Human Services, said backup plans are in place:

        • About 10 new employees have been added to the DHS call center in case there is an influx of calls related to SETS problems. Montgomery County, the only other metro county to convert, had a 600 percent increase in incoming calls after it switched to SETS.

        • Provident Bank has agreed to write checks for the county in the event that the SETS system breaks down and does not send out checks.

        • Talbert House will issue checks on the spot if an individual falls two weeks behind on receiving child support and meets certain financial criteria. Commissioners have allocated $900,000 to cover these potential expenses.

        • A new phone line, 946-SETS, has been added.

        • A videotape, which explains SETS, has been mailed to 100,000 households.

        Mr. Thomas said Hamilton County's caseload will be the largest number of cases to date being converted to the new program at one time. Three weeks later, Cuyahoga County's 80,000 will convert.

        “We think there could be disruption of service through the end of the year,” Mr. Thomas said.

        The idea behind SETS is that it will be easier to track deadbeat parents across county and state lines if the entire nation is hooked into one system.

        That will make it easier to force collection from those parents, the theory goes.

        But Hamilton County officials think their child support system is pretty good.

        They fear that residents here will find SETS a degradation of service and that they will have less ability to correct mistakes the system is bound to make.

       



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