Thursday, October 18, 2001

Ohio House votes to pay withheld child support

By Kate Macek
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio House voted 99-0 Wednesday to repay thousands of Ohio families $44.6 million in overdue child support withheld by the state over the past five years.

        The bill would require the state Department of Job and Family Services to return the money to 160,000 Ohio families at 6.5 percent interest. Included are an estimated 18,000 families in Hamilton County who are due payments.

        The computerized Support Enforcement Tracking System, installed by the agency in 1997, was illegally programmed to withhold money in return for welfare payments some families received. The department also withheld back payments owed some families.

        Geraldine Jensen, president of the Association for Children for the Enforcement of Support, said the families hurt by the state's error are among Ohio's poorest.

        “It's disturbing how many boxes of cereal and pairs of tennis shoes $44 million could have bought over the past five years,” said Ms. Jensen.

        House lawmakers said they hoped the bill would repair the damage done since 1997.

        “Senate Bill 170 will ensure that we get the money back to the people who need it most — the children and families,” said Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon.

        “Now we have to go back into each case and see if there's money owed, and figure out exactly how much they're owed,” said Laurie Petrie, spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services.

        Under the new law, each county must review questionable cases to determine if money was wrongfully withheld.

        State officials estimate it will take 18 months to complete all the state's audits and distribute checks to families.


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