Lawmakers frustrated child-support tracking still 3 to 4 years away

COLUMBIA — The state’s child support agency is still three to four years away from being able to track deadbeat parents who aren’t making payments, despite yearly multimillion-dollar fines for not complying with a 27-year-old law.

Jimmy Early of the Department of Social Services told lawmakers on Wednesday that the child welfare agency is working to comply with a 1988 law that requires a centralized computer system to enforce child support payments. Continuous delays with vendors, however, have left the state paying yearly fines to the federal government ranging from $11 million to $15 million, some of which have been paid by the vendors as penalties, he said.

The latest contract dispute, with Hewlett-Packard, ended in a settlement in January of $44.1 million to cover the penalties the state will incur until a new company has the system up and running in the next three to four years.

Early said the state is contracting with Xerox Corp., and is awaiting approval from the federal government.

South Carolina intends to use Delaware’s system as a model, Early said, angering several lawmakers who said they had been advocating for copying a successful system for years.

“What he just mentioned, we’ve been asking for for 15 years,” said Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla. “Here we’ve come full circle to do exactly, what in my opinion, we should’ve been doing.”

Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said the state has poured millions into what she dubbed a “black hole” trying to get a working system while DSS staffers were underpaid and overworked.

“I’m just very frustrated with this whole system,” Cobb-Hunter said. “We keep pouring money down freaking computer systems that don’t work.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.