10 states miss deadline for child-support tracking Computer systems unready to link to federal database

October 01, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- More than 10 million children who are owed billions in back child support will be left out when a national computer system to track delinquent parents goes into effect today.

The new Federal Case Registry, when combined with the national Directory of New Hires, is supposed to provide information on those parents who are earning money and aren't making their child support payments.

So far, 40 states and three territories have computer tracking systems that are ready to feed information into the national registry, said Michael Kharfen, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But the remaining states -- California, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina -- and the Virgin Islands have yet to get up their systems up and running.

So families in these states trying to recover unpaid child support won't benefit from the registry's expanded reach.

Federal officials say California, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania have some of the nation's highest rates of deadbeat parents.

Nationwide, about $40 billion is owed in unpaid child support. Last year, there were 19 million active child-support orders, the government reported. But of the $19 billion in child-support payments due in 1997, only $9 billion was collected.

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala said the new registry ultimately will compile records on 16 million parents who owe support to an estimated 32 million children.

"This is an exciting day of hope for children whose parents have abandoned them financially," she said. "Now we can build on our recent success to increase child support and send a message to parents who think they can evade their responsibility to their children -- you can run, but you can't hide."

The federal welfare-reform law, passed in 1996, required each state, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and the District of Columbia to have computer systems in place by Oct. 1 that monitor the status of their court-ordered child support cases.

The information will be featured in the national case registry, which will make it easier to track nonpaying parents across state lines and initiate wage withholdings or tax refund garnishees when necessary.

However, Geraldine Jensen, president of the nation's largest child-support group, ACES, the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support Inc., said states have been allowed to drag their feet on the project even though unpaid child support is one of the leading causes of child poverty.

Last year, Congress voted to soften severe penalties for states that didn't have their computer systems in operation by Oct. 1.

Politicians "must not understand how desperate people are for that money," Jensen said.

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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