Illinois: Child support money might be lostgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Support money might be lost
March 16, 2000
BY WILLIAM HATFIELD SUN-TIMES SPRINGFIELD BUREAU
SPRINGFIELD--Illinois may never recoup more than $10 million in emergency child support payments--some of which may have been pocketed by state workers.
The payments were made to tens of thousands of recipients while they waited for their regular checks to be sent out by a Wheaton processing center beset by severe backlogs.
Auditor General William Holland questioned whether the state will be reimbursed for any of the money it fronted the center, as he released a report slamming the Public Aid Department for a serious lapse in planning that left the disbursement system open to fraud.
Of 68 emergency payments that were spot-checked, 11 were found to have been unnecessary. A temporary worker, for example, improperly received more than $2,300 in emergency payments while working as a hotline operator.
The worker, who also sent out five other questionable payments, is being investigated by Public Aid's inspector general, who will meet with the Sangamon County state's attorney's office next week to discuss the case.
The audit also revealed that some people received duplicate payments for the same emergency check request after lawmakers intervened on their behalf.
One person received 12 emergency payments and many others got payments above their normal child support checks, according to Holland's audit. Lawmakers and the governor now must decide whether to push parents to reimburse the state for the roughly $10 million in emergency payments.
"If there's some way to recoup that money, we'll try," Gov. Ryan said. "But it's probably going to be very difficult, frankly."
Auditors agree, pointing to a federal law that protects child support payments from garnishment.
"Because of this failure to do basic research, recollecting monies, even those paid inappropriately, may be difficult," the audit states.
The report was one of three audits released Wednesday that criticizes Public Aid and child support enforcement in Illinois. They prompted some lawmakers to wonder whether the attorney general's office should take over enforcement, a plan Public Aid director Ann Patla endorsed Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Ryan announced a private firm gradually will take over the check disbursement center. Deloitte and Touche will be running the office completely by July 1, when the current contract ends, and stay until the state finds someone to run it permanently.
Until last fall, each county was responsible for delivering child-support payments that businesses deducted from workers' salaries. Then the federal government required the state to centralize the work, with businesses sending all support payments to a single office, which was to be operated by DuPage County Clerk Joel Kagann.
But just five months before the deadline, the Public Aid Department decided the statewide computer system that would support the center could not be finished on time, Holland found. DuPage County quickly was given the responsibility of coming up with a new computer system--which in some cases was installed in circuit clerks' offices just days before the center opened.
On its first day, the center still lacked data from 21 counties and had only 25 of its 51 workers, although officials now say 201 employees are needed.
Patla said she did not seek a delay because Kagann's office assured her the system was ready to go. But Kagann said his assurance was much narrower--simply that limited testing showed no problems with the system.
What's more, he said, the federal government was threatening Illinois with a $70 million penalty. If officials had known that could have been avoided, a delay would have been smart, he said.
" `If' is a funny word," Kagann said. "If I knew the Titanic was going to sink, I sure wouldn't have booked passage on it. . ."
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 16, 2000