SC Senators urge DSS to get child support computer online sooner

Jimmy Earley answers questions Tues. about DSS's development of a child support enforcement computer.
Jimmy Earley answers questions Tues. about DSS's development of a child support enforcement computer.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – State senators Tuesday urged the South Carolina Department of Social Services to find ways to get its child support enforcement computer system online sooner than the three years currently planned.

Jimmy Earley, DSS project director for the system, told a Senate DSS Oversight subcommittee that it will be almost 2 years to get the system finished and then about another year to train county workers and get it online in all 46 counties. Senators asked him to work with Xerox and its subcontractor to look for ways to shorten the timeline, which Earley said he would do. However, “The worst thing we could do, in my opinion, is to deploy it before it’s ready and then suffer the consequences of having a system that’s not working properly,” he told senators.

South Carolina is the only state in the nation that doesn’t have an automated child support enforcement system. A federal law required the state to have one by 1997, but the company the state hired to build it quit not long before it was due. That led to a court battle that took years and prevented the state from working on it.

Once that was settled, the state hired another company, but fired it after it missed deadlines. Now, instead of trying to build a new system from scratch, the state is using one that’s already in use in Delaware. However, Earley says 30 to 35 percent of it has to be changed to fit South Carolina’s needs, mainly that the state currently has 46 different systems, one in each county.

Having one, statewide system will make it easier to find deadbeat parents and make it easier to collect the money they owe. And, for the first time, the state will be connected to other states’ systems, making it faster and easier to find parents who’ve moved to other states but owe money in South Carolina.

He demonstrated the system to the subcommittee Tuesday at the Statehouse.

Because we don’t have a working system, the state has been fined more than $145 million over the years. The companies the state hired to build it have paid about half the fines, but that still leaves taxpayers paying the other half.

“Not only is it costly for the taxpayers, because we pay fines, but most importantly it’s costly for the families that depend upon child support,” says Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, a member of the Oversight subcommittee. Still, he said he can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and was glad to see DSS give its first demonstration of the system.

Earley says speeding up the development and implementation would cost more money because it would require more staff, but DSS will compare that cost to possible savings in fines the state won’t have to pay once the system is finished.