Maryland names new child support enforcement leader

Maryland has a new child support enforcement director, a hire that comes about three months after the office was skewered in a legislative audit that said it failed to collect more than $1.7 billion in support over three years.

Taking over the Child Support Enforcement Administration is Joseph J. DiPrimio, who ran Philadelphia's Family Court operations, including its child support enforcement programs, and is a retired court administrator of that city's courts.

Secretary of Human Resources Ted Dallas said he brought in a new executive director in a push to take the state's child support enforcement from its middling position nationwide into the top 10 states within 18 months.

"There is a lot of work to be done, and I am not being Pollyanna-ish about it," DiPrimio said Monday.

The legislative audit in September pointed out numerous failings. Among criticisms: More than 165,000 parents missed payments, and the agency was faulted for not taking advantage of existing enforcement tools. In addition, it could have withheld wages from nearly 9,000 more parents who were about $88 million in arrears at the end of September 2010, according to the audit.

The organization Advocates for Children & Youth hailed the appointment of an executive director for an agency that has had an interim one for nearly a year and a half.

"I think it means that whatever is working or isn't working — we now have someone who has full accountability for making it work," said Becky Wagner, executive director of ACY.

She said there needs to be a strategy for parents to come to a conclusion on fair and affordable payments. "And if there are systems that need to be modified, they ought to do that," she said.

Dallas said he chose DiPrimio for his track record, hands-on experience and ability to make progress. The men knew each other, though did not directly work together, in Philadelphia, more than a decade ago.

He said failure to do the best possible job on getting parents to pay support for children means that some of those children are plunged into dire financial family situations.

"They show up in other parts of the agency — where we are giving out benefits," he said.

DiPrimio, 60, came onboard doing consulting work a few months ago, and already has met with court officials, lawyers and others people involved in enforcement.

He said he is looking at improvements in several immediate areas. He wants to increase collections by using all the enforcement tools, which range from the garnishment of wages and bank accounts to the suspension of professional licenses.

"We can be more efficient at using these tools," DiPrimio said. He did not rule out seeking legislative changes.

The audit had said the enforcement administration failed to garnish bank accounts of more than 25,000 parents who owed $33.6 million, and often waited until a parent was more than $2,500 in arrears before acting. State law allows seizing funds from bank accounts once a parent owes more than $500 in child support and has not paid for more than 60 days. The agency has already strengthened its policy for seizing money from bank accounts.

DiPrimio plans to streamline operations and expedite getting the payments to families. An advisory group will be established to provide feedback to the office. He also is moving the agency's audit office into the Office of the Inspector General, which he said will improve accountability. He said the agency will use the date it collects to get a better handle everything from caseloads to how to work more efficiently.

The bulk of DiPrimio's career has been in the child support enforcement arena, and he said he intends to apply some of the practices used in Philadelphia as well as newer ones that work elsewhere. A number of them focus on intervening early in child support process so that both parents understand what to expect.

He spent many of the years after graduation from the Widener University School of Law in Pennsylvania in 1977 in child support enforcement in the Philadelphia district attorney's office and in administration in the city's court system, much of which included child support enforcement.

During that time, he helped to develop a Family Court computer system to track cases, including child support payments, a program that has since been taken over by a statewide system. An outreach program to allow people delinquent in their payments to receive amnesty for making payments was set up in neighborhood locations.

In addition, he established a program to allow a child support officer to oversee several parent conferences at a time instead of one by one, allowing for greater efficiency. DiPrimio retired from Philadelphia system in 2002. He worked in Washington for ACS, a company that deals in technical computer applications and has been acquired by Xerox. He moved to Annapolis to pursue a love of sailing.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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