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Audit: More Could Be Done To Collect Child Support

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A state agency should strengthen methods to maximize child support payments from noncustodial parents who haven’t been paying as much as they are supposed to, a state audit released Monday said.

The audit by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services examined the Maryland Department of Human Services’ Child Support Enforcement Administration from Sept. 1, 2007 through Oct. 20, 2010.

The audit found the agency has not fully used wage withholdings, occupational license suspensions and seizure of bank accounts to make parents pay up.

For the last reporting year that ended Sept. 30, 2010, child support collections totaled $530 million, while unpaid child support added up to $1.72 billion, according to the audit.

The audit notes that the withholding of wages accounts for the largest portion of collections. However, the audit found that CSEA did not ensure that local child support offices followed up on cases in which noncustodial parent wages were identified by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement for possible wage withholdings. The audit also said CSEA did not ensure that employers were reporting new hires to the state’s new hire registry.

“We determined that wage withholding had not been established for 8,763 noncustodial parents with child support arrearages totaling $88 million whose wages totaled $43 million for the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2010,” the audit said. “Our tests of 22 of these accounts disclosed that, in 12 cases, wages should have been withheld.”

In a response, the department said it agreed with the finding. However, the department said it was important to note that a report of wages sometimes lists cases where it is not appropriate for a wage withholding order.

“We tested a daily match report of wages where out of 61 total cases, none required any action because the cases were already paying or were shared cases with another state already enforcing the order,” the department said.

The audit also noted that CSEA only obtained occupational licensing data from 7 out of 15 state licensing authorities to look for possible licensing suspensions. Because matching data was not properly designed, only a few people were referred to authorities for license suspension, the audit said.

The audit identified 6,966 licenses of people who owed $47 million in child support.

“Our tests of 25 of those individuals disclosed that 17, who owed $966,000, were eligible for license suspensions,” the audit said.

The department said it will work with other state agencies to exchange data as necessary to enforce occupational license suspension for past-due child support.

“We will phase in the automated data exchange with agencies beginning September 2011 and expect to be complete May 2012,” the department said.

The audit also pointed out that state law allows CSEA to seize bank account funds if someone owes more than $500 in child support and has not paid for more than 60 days. However, the audit found CSEA only used the collection method for people who owed more than $2,500.

The department said it plans to reduce the threshold from $2,500 to $500. The reason for the discrepancy was due to automation of the administrative garnishment process in April 2010.

“In an effort to ensure the system program logic was accurate, we proceeded with caution and established the arrears threshold at $2,500 instead of $500 to meet criteria for garnishment,” the department said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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