By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun
6:17 PM EST, November 14, 2012
The state contractor that collects child support payments in Baltimore continues to have trouble meeting the terms of its agreement, according to a report released Wednesday by the Office of Legislative Audits calling for better oversight by the Department of Human Resources.
In a follow-up review after blasting the agency last year for not doing enough to collect payments, the auditors said the state had completed or begun to address nearly all issues, but noted that the department had made only "minimal progress" addressing contracting issues in Baltimore.
The report faults Maximus, the contractor, for failing to meet paperwork and case management benchmarks connected to its duty to locate delinquent parents and collect payments from them.
The state agency contends that it has resolved all of the issues raised by auditors last year.
Thomas J. Barnickel III, acting legislative auditor, acknowledged that the agency "demonstrated a commitment," but said the human resources department has to do better in working with Maximus.
Human resources secretary Theodore Dallas defended his agency's oversight and its overall performance, noting that collections last year reached an all-time high of $544.4 million, a $25.1 million annual increase. The collections for Baltimore were up $3.6 million, Dallas said.
"How did we do this? By encouraging employers to report new hires, [the agency] was able to set up regular payments for parents who had jobs and owed child support but were not making regular payments," Dallas wrote in a letter Wednesday to state lawmakers.
"We also worked with other state agencies to suspend drivers and professional licenses and intercept tax refunds or lottery winnings"
Of 1,100 Baltimore child support cases reviewed from Oct. 1, 2011, to March 31, at least 63 percent weren't in compliance with the state's contract for various reasons, according to the auditors.
The report also faults the agency for not making sure the compliance issues were corrected in a timely manner. As of September, 70 of 702 cases from the end of 2011, or about 10 percent, hadn't been corrected.
Maximus did not respond to requests for comment.
Dallas outlined steps the Human Resources Department has taken to push Maximus to do a better job. The state is in the process of renegotiating its contract to raise performance targets and tie payments to successful collections. Dallas said the increased collections, up 4.4 percent, indicate "dramatic improvement."
"This substantial uptick in collections and performance is hard to reconcile with a grade of 'minimal progress,'" the agency wrote in its response to the report.
The Department of Human Resources will have to continue submitting quarterly reports to Office of Legislative Audits to provide information on its improvements.
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