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Md. child support enforcement lax, auditors say

With Maryland parents more than $1 billion in arrears, the state’s Child Support Enforcement Administration has been lax in contacting employers about garnishing wages of deadbeat parents, legislative auditors said in a report released this week.

CSEA has also failed to ensure the parents are coded correctly in the state’s automated process for suspending their driver’s or occupational license for long-outstanding payments, the Office of Legislative Audits added.

In response to the report, CSEA said it agrees with many of the auditors’ findings and has taken steps to enhance followup with employers and ensure parents with support obligations are correctly coded with the Motor Vehicle Administration and occupational licensing agencies.

CSEA’s collections of outstanding child support obligations in Maryland totaled $559 million in the year that ended Sept. 30, OLA stated in its report. As of that date, $1.33 billion remained owed in child support statewide, the auditors added.

OLA’s audit of CSEA covers Oct. 21, 2010, to May 4, 2014.

Little action taken

The auditors said they found significant instances of local CSEA offices taking no action — for periods of between three months and more than two years — to contact the employers of parents whose wages were to be garnished for nonpayment of child support. For five of 18 cases examined, the total child support arrearage was $226,000, said OLA, a division of the Department of Legislative Services.

“Local child support offices did not take timely action for employers with wage withholding orders that failed to remit wage withholding payments within 90 days, as required by CSEA’s procedures,” OLA stated in its report. “While CSEA’s Child Support Enforcement System alerted the local offices to these cases, our testing disclosed that caseworkers did not always follow up with the employers in a timely manner.”

In its response, CSEA said that since April it has been using a “comprehensive case management tool” statewide which it developed with the University of Maryland to enable agency staff to identify when withholding orders have been sent to employers but payments have not been received.

According to OLA, wage garnishment accounted for $395 million, or about 71 percent of CSEA’s recovery of delinquent child support payments in the year that ended last Sept. 30.

Improperly executed orders

OLA also found that, at local CSEA offices, parents under child support orders were “improperly excluded” from processes that permit driver’s or occupational licenses to be suspended for nonpayment.

“For example, we identified 682 obligors with unpaid child support totaling approximately $10.5 million who were excluded from the driver’s license suspension process because the proper system code for the applicable accounts was not used when these obligors entered into payment plans,” Thomas J. Barnickel III, who heads the Office of Legislative Audits, stated in a letter accompanying the report. “Consequently, these obligors would not be automatically subject to driver’s license suspension if they did not keep current on their payment plans.”

Improper coding also occurred at “multiple local offices” regarding the process of suspending occupational licenses, OLA stated. The auditors noted that as of last September, 281 parents with occupational licenses and a total of $6.8 million in arrearage were excluded from the automated suspension process.

CSEA responded it has corrected its systems to ensure proper coding.

But CSEA, a division of the state Department of Human Resources, strongly disagreed with OLA’s finding that the administration failed to routinely follow up with occupational licensing agencies when notification or confirmation of the suspension was not received.

“There is no statutory requirement for CSEA to determine whether state licensing authorities took action to suspend the license,” CSEA stated in its written response. “CSEA fulfilled its duty by referring delinquent cases to state licensing authorities so that the licensing authority might fulfill its duty to initiate suspension on qualifying cases.”

Maryland law permits the suspension of a driver’s license for a parent who is at least 60 days delinquent. Occupational licenses can be suspended after 120 days of delinquency.