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Audit of child support enforcement in Maryland shows collections are up slightly but $1.3 billion is still owed

An audit of child support enforcement efforts in Maryland released Tuesday shows collections are up slightly, but non-custodial parents still owe a collective $1.3 billion in payments going back years.

More than $565 million was collected in the fiscal year that ended in September 2017, according to the audit by the state Department of Legislative Services. The collections are up 1% from 2014, but the balance on unpaid orders saw “virtually no change.”

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The Maryland Child Support Administration, a division of the state Department of Human Services, establishes paternity, helps create child support orders, and collects and distributes payments.

Roughly 170,000 non-custodial parents, mostly men, owe child support in Maryland. A private vendor is in charge of collections in Baltimore, which has 27% of the state’s cases.

When non-custodial parents don’t pay, the administration has multiple enforcement tools, including suspending driver’s licenses, withholding wages, intercepting tax refunds and seizing money in bank accounts.

Letitia Logan Passarella, a researcher who studies child support enforcement for the Ruth Young Center for Families and Children at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work, said the $1.3 billion in debt is cumulative over the last 30 years. The money is hard to collect because much of the debt is for children now grown up and and some is owed by non-custodial parents whose payment orders outstrip their earnings, Passarella said.

Maryland is not unique for the amount of child support owed. Across the country, past-due child support totals roughly $115 billion. The debt does not go away when a child turns 18, although Maryland and other states have programs to forgive money owed to the government for aid given for the care of a non-custodial parent’s child.

The child support administration seeks “opportunities to increase child support collections, to encourage courts to establish realistic orders based on a non-custodial parent’s ability to pay and to receive regular, consistent payments to collect support and arrears — all to assist in the overall reduction of cumulative arrears,” said Katherine Morris, an agency spokeswoman, in an email.

The state Department of Legislative Services audited the administration’s financial controls between May 2014 and July 2017.

Auditors found that oversight for the reinstatement of driver’s licenses was lacking. In a sampling of 15 cases in which a driver’s license was reinstated, auditors found nine instances in which there was no documented supervisory review or approval.

The agency works with the Motor Vehicle Administration to suspend people’s licenses when their child support payments are more than 60 days late. Licenses may be reinstated when non-custodial parents catch up on back payments

The child support administration agreed with the findings and outlined steps to improve its oversight. On the matter of driver’s license reinstatements, the agency will begin training employees in June to make sure they follow policies.

The administration also did not check to make sure a state university fulfilled all of its obligations in a contract to provide a local area computer network, according to the auditors. The report did not name the university, but said payments under an interagency agreement totaled $5.7 million from 2013 to 2018.

Additional findings showed some employees were unnecessarily given access to the child support enforcement system.

The audit also said the agency needed to make sure a vendor was properly safeguarding the identity and personal information in a “new hire” registry that is used to find wages for people who owe child support.

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