Friday, March 09, 2001

Fee on support checks waived




By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Bank One announced Thursday it will stop charging $3 fees to single parents who cash child-support checks.

        The decision follows private talks between Gov. Bob Taft's office and Bank One, the contractor running the state's malfunctioning child-support system. It is the state's most recent attempt to show outraged and skeptical parents it's serious about fixing that system.

        Last month, officials at the Department of Job and Family Services admitted that up to $8 million in child support payments were illegally withheld by Bank One computers.

        This followed widespread complaints that the new system often took weeks instead of days to send vital payments to families.

        Many parents and a child support advocacy group also were upset over the fees. Single parents who did not have a Bank One account were automatically charged $3 to cash payments Bank One collected and forwarded to them — on Bank One checks.

        “This is a good thing,” said Geraldine Jensen, president of the Toledo-based Association for Children for the Enforcement of Support (ACES.) “It seems only fair, since there was no justification for charging that fee in the first place.”

        Jeff Lyttle, a Bank One spokesman, said the fees covered the bank's costs to process any payment over $50 and to guard against fraud. He said bank executives agreed to absorb those costs.

        “This was really a gesture between Bank One and a good customer,” Mr. Lyttle said.

        Mr. Lyttle declined to say how much the bank collected in fees, calling it competitive information.

        The issue was serious enough to make the state push for changes, said Mary Anne Sharkey, Mr. Taft's communications director.

        “It certainly was an issue raised by the advocates,” Ms. Sharkey said.

        The ACES group is suing the state in an attempt to speed up payments and refunds to families. Though changes to the computer system could take months, Ms. Sharkey said the decision to stop the fees now was not a response to the lawsuit.

        The Bank One decision follows a change in leadership at Job and Family Services. Agency head Jacqui Romer-Sensky resigned March 2. Mr. Taft appointed former House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson interim director the next day.

       



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