Child Support Enforcement ignores tools to collect tens of millions, auditors find

Print More

By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Millions of dollars in child support payments are going uncollected because the Child Support Enforcement Administration has not been utilizing tools put in place to recoup unpaid funds, including wage garnishing, suspending professional licenses and seizing bank funds.

A report released Monday by the Office of Legislative Audits found that the agency, a division of the Department of Human Resources, had longstanding and pervasive problems. A few of them include:

Money

Photo by Tracy Olson

  • The agency had not initiated wage garnishing for 8,763 noncustodial parents, who were collectively late with $88 million in payments.
  • State-issued professional licenses had not been suspended for 6,966 people who owed a total of $47 million in child support.
  • The agency also did not garnish funds from bank accounts of 25,550 people who owed between $500 and $2,500 in child support, worth $33 million in total.

According to the report, total unpaid child support statewide is $1.7 billion – about three times what the agency collected in child support payments in fiscal year 2010.

“There are a lot of areas where we think there’s opportunities for additional collections,” said Legislative Auditor Bruce Myers. He called some of the missed opportunities “frustrating,” and said that some of the problems have been longstanding.

In written response to the audit, DHR staff agrees with all of the findings, and has outlined ways that the problems have been or will be corrected.

“We are working very hard to address the issues as best we can,” said DHR Communications Director Ian Patrick Hines.

The General Assembly’s Joint Audit Committee will hold a hearing next week on the report – as well as ones previously done on the Family Investment Administration and Social Services Administration, which are also both part of DHR.

“All of them have a lot of money involved, and there’s a lot of potential impact there,” Myers said.

No wage withholding

If a parent is not paying child support, the agency has the power to withhold that money from his or her wages. About two-thirds of child support collections come from payments withheld from paychecks in fiscal year 2010.  According to the report, the state’s database of new hires is supposed to be crosschecked with people who owe child support every 20 days.

Auditors obtained a database of wage earners and the listing of parents who owe child support, and compared them. The report states they found 8,763 people who owed child support, had income, and were not having it taken out of their wages. Together, these people owed $88 million in child support, and made $43 million in the third quarter of 2010.

They took a closer look at 22 of these people, and found that 10 of them should not have their wages garnished because they were making payments in other ways.

The other 12 had been selected for manual reviews by local child support offices in order to initiate wage withholding. However, those reviews were not done, and federal government reports that prompted the agency to look at those wage earners were ignored in two of the agency’s largest jurisdictions.

Furthermore, employers had not reported that eight of those 12 people had started working. A third-party vendor prepares the new-hire database, and the report states that there were some who were concerned about passing the data on to that vendor. However, no attempts were made to solve the data issue or find out which employers had not reported – which is required by law and can result in a fine.

Few licenses pulled
The agency is also authorized to revoke state-issued professional licenses for people who have not paid child support.

In fiscal year 2010, the agency only found five people whose licenses should be pulled.  Auditors, using databases from 15 professional licensing divisions, came up with almost 7,000.

Two major things caused the discrepancy. First, the agency only had databases from seven of the 15 professions that are licensed. They were missing databases on professions such as insurance agents and teachers, as well as general business licenses.

The agency also applied extremely strict guidelines to determine matches between the two databases. Names needed to be identical in order to be a match, so if a person’s insurance license was issued to “Jim Smith,” and his child support account was under “James Smith,” the two would not be counted as a match.

Auditors took a close look at 25 of their matches from the licensing databases, and found that 17 people were not paying their child support and could have had their licenses suspended.

Myers said that this is a problem that the agency has had for years.

“They have been very slow in getting anything going,” he said.

The agency can also suspend driver’s licenses of people who are two months or more behind on payments. However, auditors found, the driver’s license records are subjected to the same strict scrutiny as the business license records, and a slight difference in name causes the two not to match. In 2010, 30,361 driver’s licenses were suspended – but 7,929 were rejected.

Auditors examined 18 of these rejections. Agency staff had not reviewed 15 of them to find out if there were actual matches in the data. Auditors did review them, and found 12 matches. Agency staff examined the remaining three and matches were found, but the information was not reported to the Motor Vehicles Administration so the licenses could be suspended.

The report states that this finding has been present in the last four audits.

No bank seizures

The law also allows the agency to take child support funds out of bank accounts if a person owes more than $500 and is more than two months late with a payment. However, auditors found that the agency was only going after bank accounts of people who owed more than $2,500 in child support. There were 25,550 people who could have had their bank funds taken, but escaped through this loophole, the report states.

The agency also did not go after money in checking accounts, saying they had concerns about the person who owed child support meeting living expenses. However, auditors found 1,052 people with checking accounts who owed more than $500 – and 51 of those had balances of more than $10,000.

Other problems

Several other issues were identified in the report. These include:

  • A failure to check and correct improper Social Security numbers. This is mainly because local offices in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City – two of the largest jurisdictions – had no processes in place to look into incorrect numbers and fix them.
  • Unpaid child support was not withheld from payments to parents who are also vendors to the state. Auditors found 119 people who could have had their unpaid support withheld.
  • The agency did not monitor the private operator hired to run the program in Baltimore City closely enough to ensure that proper compliance and enforcement actions were taken.
  • A large office took its time in reviewing late payment reports, with nine out of 20 reviewed cases not moving forward for weeks to months after the agency’s 30-day deadline.
  • Careful comparisons were not done between state death records and the database of custodial parents receiving child support. Child support checks were processed to 362 parents who had been dead for more than a month, auditors found.
  • Invoices from local entities who did work for the agency were not verified – and were not for standard amounts.
  • Several employees had unnecessary access to databases
  • Dianne Jensen

    Amen!  Finally, someone is going to hold DSS and Maryland Child Support Enforcement Accountable.  I have been dealing with Howard County DSS and the MD Child Support Enforcement (via the Governor’s Office) for over 12 years now and still have no resolution.  After 12 years of screaming to anyone who would listen, Master Patrick (who is worthless in my opinion) FINALLY sent my daughter’s father, Vincenzo Marasa, to face a judge.  The Howard County Courts and DSS know him so well they joke about him and even call him “Vinny.”  I told them about a workmen’s comp claim he had filed and that he was going to get $70,000.  I told them the date, time and place of the hearing.  Do you think they investigated or showed up at the hearing?  No.  Then they claim to me that they’re sorry — that it dropped through the cracks.  They admitted to me at one point that they hadn’t even opened my file for 3 years.  Ms. Tucker, the court’s liason, had the adacity to say to me:  “Well, there are people out there who are owed more money than you.  We had one doctor who quit his practice to keep from paying the $400,000 in back support he owed.”  My answer to her was:  ‘WHY THE HELL DID YOU LET HIM GET $400,000 behind in the first place.”  I’ve heard every excuse imaginable from Howard County and the State of Maryland.  I’ve had to work two and three jobs to support my daughter because these idiots wouldn’t do their jobs.  I would welcome the opportunity to speak with the auditors and fill them in on all of the ridiculousness of my case.  Dianne Jensen, Howard County Case No. 140042973.

  • Really mad Mom of 3

    Glad it’s starting to come to light!  I call DHR every week and ask what is going on with my cases.  It’s far better for the non-custodial parent.  They are protected by the laziness, weakness, and policies of the Child Support Administration.  I understand it costs money to have this administered, but the late paying “Dead Beat” parents should have to pay those fees.  There should be late payment fees and interest.  Also, instead of the custodial parents having to call and push to make sure our cases are being handled, the non-custodial (non-paying) parents should have to call in weekly with a report of employment status, address, phone number, etc.  Automatically they should have to report in quarterly.  If they are late once – Monthly reporting.  Second offense – bi-weekly.  More than 2 months behind, weekly reporting, a visit from DHR, etc. Make it a pain in the butt to these people who work the system.  Both of my ex’s have been out-running the system for a year.  No current address (unless I provide it) and they aren’t allowed to tell ME what it is if they do update their status.  How about that, protecting THEIR privacy!  My EX has gone to extremes of currently hopping between 4 addresses, staying with friends, etc.  And his cell phone has been turned off.  We do have his work address and he is garnished….if he is STILL employed there. 
     
    The State lets unemployed people receive unemployment by checking off online or over the phone that they have looked for a job.  I can name dozens of people who check off the boxes and sit back and collect for 26 weeks, without ever having to show details like: The company they applied with, who they spoke to, what the position was, etc.  And then check behind them to make sure it was actually done! 
     
    Why do we make it hard on the hard working, taxpaying people, Instead of making it hard on the manipulative, lazy criminals who run from their responsibilities?
     
    Sorry, went on a little tangent there but it’s painful, cumbersome and exhausting to continuously battle for what custodial parents are entitled to.

     

    • Mageedis

       And from the other side of things, the non custodial parent is getting screwed by the same folks. While the department lets dead beat parents go without being accountable, they are already making it hard for non custodial parents who want to, and have been taking care of their children. I owe back support for my daughter, and have been paying back the support on time. Problem is, I am paying support for a daughter that was kicked out of her home when she was 16 and pregnant. She moved in with me, and had her baby. I supported her and her baby, while the other parent continued to collect support payments. One phone call to child support from that parent, and it could have been cleared up. Instead, I would have to pay an attorney $1200 every time I had to go to the department, because all I am to them is a dead beat parent. My license was suspended, without me knowing it, For the fourth time in two years. I am disabled, and the payments are automatically taken out of Social security disability for the last three years. I am now on four month house arrest for driving while suspended, These folks have made my life miserable! This is suppose to be all about the children, but the department has ruined the relationship that my daughter had with the “custodial” parent because of my daughters resentment  toward the “custodial” parent. I do not have thousands of dollars to fight the department. Do you think anyone cares about my daughter’s and my problem? I was not able to collect child support from the parent, who actually owes it. Things are NOT always as they look! Why don’t Maryland regulate child support like it regulates law abiding companies? Maybe there would be more jobs for the so called “Dead-beat” parents to have the ability to pay!

  • Ellentracy25

    It is not only happening in Maryland.  I am in Louisville, KY. For almost 2 years child support has ignored me and including the Judge ignored my child support enforcement. MY ex never showed up in court and nothing has been done against him. I complained against my local child support office and I was intimated by the assistant of the guy who runs the child support office in Louisville, KY. He sent a letter in the mail asking me questions of why I may suspect that my ex is not living in Kentucky or why he was seemed in another state when I reported this to the persecutor in court. I told her that he has a CDL license  and that he was seemed in Arizona because he still has my home address on his driver license. The City of  Phoenix, Arizona sent him several letters for a traffic violation and I sent those letters back by refusing to sign certification for them. Next thing, I know the Child support office the same office sent my another letter saying that if any of my kids have any unjustified absences in this coming school year. I may be hold  accountable to go to jail for that and they may take my children custody for missing school days because that is really meant for them to be a bad parent. Really?? He just missed 4 days last school year. I may continue to be intimidated by these butch of corrupt fellows but I am now suspecting if this child support office is actually receiving child support payments  from my ex husband and they are probably misleading the funds which I am not receiving them. Then who is received them? And why? Because my ex-husband is still not hold accountable for his child support enforcement that is around $10,000.

  • Casey

    My husband is owed about 5 grand and nothing happens to his ex wife — she gets all her viistation regardless of payment history — AND when they did pull her license she still drove to get the kids and NO cop would touch it… its her visitation and if he didnt bring them to the court order drop off point HE would be in contempt… BUT SHE can drive with the kids and no license… WTF is that!

  • ANGRY

    WE HAVE BEEN FIGHTING MD CSEA FOR 14 YEARS NOW, CASE #13335FL-THEY ARE WORTHLESS!!! WE ARE OWED OVER $62,300 IN BACK CHILD SUPPORT AND THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS!!! ISNT THIS AMOUNT A FEDERAL OFFENSE??? I HAVE WRITTEN THE GOVENOR AND OTHER STATE OFFICIALS, AND ONLY AT THAT TIME DO WE GET CONTACTED AND TOLD THAT THEY ARE DOING SOMETHING… IT NEVER HAPPENS!!! MD CSEA SUCKS!! I HAVE SPENT MY LIFE SAVINGS RAISING MY FAMILY WITH 5 KIDS (4 OF WHICH ARE MY STEP CHILDREN) AND HAVE STUGGLED MY BUT OFF TO GET BY WHILE HE GOES OUT FOR DINNER AND DRINKS EVERY SINGLE NIGHT BECAUSE THE STATE OF MD CANT COLLECT A COURT ORDERED PAYMENT!! MY FAMILY AND I NEED HELP-I NOW HAVE HEALTH ISSUES AND AM CURRENTLY FILING FOR HELP FROM THE STATE WITH INSURANCE -(I CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO PAY $745 A MOTH FOR COVERAGE) AND HAVE TO JUMP THROUGH HOOPS TO GET HELP, ITS DEGRADING AND VERY TIME CONSUMING, AND ALL OF WHICH WOULDNT HAVE HAPPENED IF THE STATE OF MD WOULD DO THERE F-ING JOB!!!

    • Von Black

      Shame, shame, shame.

    • chaka khun

      i am experincing the same problem, my children father owes $14,000.00 and is filing a motion to pay less , he makes $140,000.00 a year., he is a attorney, raymond jones attorney at law , you can pull up his goggle adds , he had 5 five and he has his face book ,on-line so that the world could see it, and he counsel in family law and he owes $14,000.00 , one year
      behind his drivers licence never was taken and his bar license never was taken

  • Von Black

    What code governs CSEA. That’s where you start to move the court to do their job. Short of that, they only go after Blacks and Foreigners. I know it all too well. Overhear them in chambers talking about this stuff. They really go after Doctors from India that marry White women. Shame the don’t treat everybody the same.