Maryland child support collection needs improvement

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The state of Maryland is getting a lot better at collecting child support payments, auditors say, but is still collecting less than a third of $1.8 billion owed by non-custodial parents to take care of their children.

The good news, according to an audit of Child Support Enforcement Administration in the Department of Human Resources released Monday, is that the agency has corrected all 11 of the problems legislative auditors found four years ago and the amount of child support payments in arrears has been substantially reduced.

“Nevertheless, our audit identified opportunities for CSEA to improve its oversight of the child support enforcement operations,” chief auditor Thomas Barnickel told legislators in a letter. The agency “did not ensure that local child support offices initiated follow-up action when employers failed to remit wage withholding payments.”

The audit also found that the agency and local offices did not make effective use of the other tools to enforce child support, such as suspending driver’s licenses and occupational licenses.

The team from the Office of Legislative Audits found only six major problems areas this time, although the agency had also been the subject of a special audit requested by legislators in 2012.

The audit released Monday covered the three and half years from October 2010 to May 2014, all under the O’Malley administration. (Story continues below this graphic from Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.)

Child support graphic graphic large

Many problems in local offices

Many of the problems found by the auditors are actually the failings of the county offices of child support in the departments of social services, jointly funded by the state and local governments. Some of the functions are even outsourced to contractors, who auditors say are often not adequately monitored by the local agencies.

In the response to the audit findings provided by Human Resources Secretary Sam Malhotra, a Hogan appointee, the administration largely agreed with most of the findings and documented corrective action it has already taken.

Overall, last year state taxpayers spent over $45 million, including federal subsidies, on the Child Support Enforcement Administration, which collected $559 million from its open workload of 214,000 cases, a sum up 9% from 2010. But that still left $1.33 billion uncollected, an amount down 13% from 2010.

Major findings

Among the major findings by the auditors, as Barnickel pointed out, local agencies often did not follow up with employers who were sent notices that they were to garnish the wages of their employees. Taking child support out of paychecks is the principal way the state collects money from non-custodial parents who are not voluntarily sending the support they’ve been ordered by a court to pay.

Auditors found that local offices often disregarded repeated reminders from child support headquarters to contact the employers directly.

Auditors matched up “obligors”– people obliged to pay support — with wage earners from the records of the state labor department, and found there were at least 4,000 with unpaid balances of $500 or more in child support totaling $48.5 million.

The child support agency said that since the auditors left, it has “enhanced the language of the employer delinquency notices, and now sends three successive notices to an employer who appears to have not complied.”

In collaboration with the University of Maryland College Park, the agency also developed a case management tool, or dashboard, to better keep track of the status of cases and employers.

The audit also found that the agency was not suspending driver’s licenses and occupational licenses when payments are 60 to 90 days in arrears, as the law allows. But there was often improper coding by the agency that removed obligors from the suspension process.

The auditors also recommended that the agency better monitor its contractors, and get better documentation that the work was being performed.