Human-services computer woes annoy lawmakers


Continued problems with a new human-services computer system have drawn the ire of state legislators, frustrated over spending increasing amounts of money for a network that still delays and miscalculates client payments.

Montgomery County's 16,000 child-support cases went on the system Feb. 6, nearly two months after an original start date. But Norris E. Sheppard, director of the county's division of child-support enforcement, said the new computer system still assigns incorrect addresses to clients and, in some cases, wrong amounts for checks.

The $34 million Client Information System includes child-support and public-assistance data. It has been developed over several years to comply with federal requirements that states automate human-services information, and ultimately improve distribution of benefits and child-support payments.

Montgomery is the 20th county to go on the system since 1993, but it also is the largest by far. The state Department of Human Resources also must bring Baltimore City and Baltimore, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties on-line by October, or risk losing some federal funding. Baltimore County is scheduled to join the system next.

Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Republican, said department officials assured legislators at a recent budget hearing that there should not be any more problems in Montgomery. "We have invested a lot of money in these systems and they must be fixed as soon as possible, or the money's going to stop pouring in," Mr. Hogan said.

Parents in Montgomery County are receiving checks an average of 10 days late, Mr. Sheppard said.

"The phones are jumping off the hook," he said. "I think the delays will grow as time goes on."

A report prepared recently for legislative committees by a state fiscal analyst found that the system "has produced a variety of problems" for both child-support and welfare clients. The system has kept the department from providing some information on applications for food stamps, medical assistance and other benefits, and has made data on child-support collections

unreliable, according to the report.

The state already collects only about a third of the support owed.

Helen Szablya, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources, said the latest problems have to do both with Montgomery County's old way of processing checks and the number of cases there. She said the state wouldn't force other counties to go on the computer before fixing Montgomery's problems.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said computer bugs were to be expected, though she acknowledged the project never was well-organized.

But other legislators pointedly blamed the department for glitches, and said they would take that into account when considering the human-resources budget this session.

"There's a great feeling of frustration of how it's been managed thus far," said Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee that reviews the department's budget. "You've got a history of one problem after another with this system."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad