South Carolina is the only state in the nation that doesn't have a statewide child support enforcement computer system, required by federal law, and has been fined more than $100 million because of that. Now, that system has been delayed again after the state ended the contract with the company it hired to build the system.
Congress passed a law in 1988 requiring states to develop statewide child support enforcement systems, to make it faster and easier for parents to get court-ordered child support. South Carolina had a deadline of 1997 to get its up and running, but missed that deadline after the company it hired didn't get the job done.
That led to a court case over the contract, which delayed the system even more. Meanwhile, the federal government was fining the state millions of dollars for not following the law. So far, the state has been fined more than $104 million.
Hewlett Packard started working on the system in 2007. But Marc Manos, an attorney for the state Department of Social Services, says the state just terminated its contract with HP because it missed testing deadlines and the system was not going to be ready by its September 18th launch date.
Manos says the state does not have to start over from scratch; it will finish what HP started. But with the change, it's too soon to know how long it will take to finish the system.
Bill Ritz, spokesman for Hewlett Packard, confirms that the state terminated the contract on July 10th.
"The State's termination was especially surprising to HP given the system's advanced stage of development, and considering the State's acknowledgment that the system was closer to completion than ever before. HP had provided a demonstration of the system to federal authorities in late June 2013 and received favorable feedback. HP and the State had been collaborating on a revised delivery schedule in which, among other things, HP was proposing to take over tasks previously designated as State responsibilities in order to achieve project completion in the shortest period of time. HP had submitted that schedule to the State on June 30, 2013 and was awaiting additional information from the State to move forward. "
Katie Morgan, director of child support enforcement for the state Department of Social Services, says she can't answer questions about HP's termination because it's now a legal matter. But she said there's one major reason why it's taken South Carolina so long to build this system.
"In South Carolina, we share child support enforcement responsibility with the family courts, with all the clerks of court in South Carolina. Therefore, you've got enforcement that's being done by both DSS, in the central office, and also in the county clerks of court. So it's basically 47 disparate systems that are coming together and have to be merged as one, and that adds to a lot of the complexity of our system," she says.
Manos says HP had agreed to pay this year's federal fine for missing the deadline, and that the state is asking that HP pay all future fines until the system is up and running.
Morgan says once the system is working, it will speed up the process by automating some things that are still done by hand. That will make it easier for parents and even businesses, which now have to report wage withholdings to 46 clerks of courts and the state DSS office. Once the new system is running, businesses will have to report those withholdings to only the DSS office.
Despite not having the computer system, DSS collects about $260 million a year in child support, Morgan says. She says the computerized system should improve that by ten percent, meaning an additional $26 million a year going to children.