By TRACEY GLAZENER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Deadbeat dads are giving way to a deadbeat system, according to testimony before a House committee.
In response to the testimony presented before the House Family and Children Services Committee, a Michigan Family Independence Agency aide denied accusations made by the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support that the state’s child-support system is dysfunctional.
“In every allegation there is usually a grain of truth,” Bill Kordenbrock said. “But that is not always the case, and I don’t think it is here.”
Committee minority Vice Chair Michael Murphy, D-Lansing, has been working with ACES — Michigan’s largest child-support organization — to investigate the state’s alleged child-support system problems.
Murphy urged the committee to carefully consider legislation, introduced by him last April, which would ensure that undistributed child-support dollars are accounted for and diligent efforts are made to get payments to intended beneficiaries.
“I believe child-support dollars should go to the children, not the general fund or for any other purpose other than children,” Murphy said. “We need to make sure we put children first.”
Michigan’s implementation of the Child Support Enforcement System — FIA’s child-support computer system — began in 1991. Although CSES is the nation’s most expensive social service computer system, Michigan has been fined $410 million for the program’s inability to comply with federal regulations and deadlines.
“As an end-user of the system, I’m telling you it doesn’t work,” said Kerrisha Havens of Owosso. “When my county started using CSES, they suddenly couldn’t find me in the system, and now I can’t reach anyone to help me.”
ACES President Geraldine Jensen told the committee that between September 1998 and September 2001, FIA failed to distribute more than $44 million in collected child-support payments.
Reasons for distribution failure included FIA and FOC’s inability to locate the custodial parent’s current address and receipt of funds that could not be linked to any CSES case.
Kordenbrock said the amount lawfully turned over to the state as unclaimed property was much less than Jensen reported. He said Jensen’s figures weren’t appropriately adjusted for tax offsets or funds-in-transit, and he strongly believes the state’s system is functioning adequately.
“We have a system that works, it’s in place, we’ve asked for certification and I believe we are in the next chapter,” Kordenbrock said. “Michigan does have a very solid child-support system.”
However, Joseph Harrison, an audit division administrator for the Michigan Office of the Auditor General — the agency responsible for monitoring the use of Michigan’s state funds and resources — said FIA has not completed corrective actions ordered following the office’s 1998 audit of FIA.
Harrison said FIA’s lack of action contributed to the office’s decision to conduct a series of audits at the local level to evaluate child-support case handling. The office is in the process of visiting four counties, including Macomb, Jackson, Sanilac and Kalamazoo; and will begin in Wayne County in April.
“We’re out in the field looking at these cases from both sides,” Harrison said. “We’re tracing the cases in, and we’re tracing the cases out, because we want to get the full picture of how these cases are being handled.”
Meanwhile, parents — who depend on timely child support payments to provide for their children — say they are forced to deal with a system that is unable to handle current caseload levels. Wayne County mother of two, Joyce Coley, said she has been trying to reach the Wayne County Friend of the Court for two months.
“When trying to reach the Friend of the Court, I didn’t get a recording, I didn’t get anything,” Coley said. “I dial the number every day — busy, busy, busy — this is very, very frustrating.”
Committee members remain unconvinced that Murphy’s package is the answer to Michigan’s child support-system woes, but they agree the problem must be swiftly and thoroughly investigated.
“I don’t know all the answers, but it’s driving me absolutely insane,” said Rep. Susan Tabor, R-Delta Township. “These dads are doing the right thing, but the moms aren’t getting the checks — it’s a real shame.”
The committee will hear testimony next week pertaining specifically to CSES operations and requested that Kordenbrock return to provide further information.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By TRACEY GLAZENER