By: Erin Hollenkamp
According to Ryan Keith of the Illinois State Journal-Register, the child support collection business in Illinois is booming. Nearly ten years ago, a new system of collecting and distributing child support payments caused major delays that nearly shut down the process, but more recent reforms have made major headway.
The last five years have seen record amounts of collections, and in the just-completed budget year, the state collected $1.4 billion.
This fall marks the 10th birthday of the State Disbursement Unit, a centralized distributor of child support checks that nearly broke the system. Counties had been collecting and distributing checks for decades, but a federal order led to the creation of the SDU.
The base of operations in DuPage County was immediately swamped with requests. Checks saw delays numbering weeks, and the process cost millions of dollars to patch back to usefulness.
A private company, ACS State and Local Solutions, has used an improved computer system to restore order. Pam Lowry, who runs Illinois' child support enforcement division, says officials are dedicated to avoiding a repeat of 1999’s mishaps.
Lowry credits a number of factors for the turnaround in collection rates. Regulations now suspend a person's driver's license and passport if they do not make the ordered payments. This has historically been an option, but a law passed in 2007 has made carrying it out much easier. Bank accounts can be frozen, as can the issuance of hunting and fishing permits.
The improved computer system allows automatic payments to be deducted from paychecks issued by employers, removing a step on both the paying and receiving end.
Nearly 3,100 orders to suspend licenses were issued in 2008, and by the end of the first half of the current year, that number had nearly doubled, according to Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt. In order to have the suspension lifted, parents must schedule payment.
According to Lowry, Illinois has collected almost $50 million from restricting driving and hunting licenses
"It's about making the consequences meaningful," she says.
Her office has nearly 880 employees, and an additional 82 still working at the SDU, and Lowry says all work their hardest to hold all parents accountable even though they work with more than 500,000 families annually.
She acknowledged that there is always room for improvement. Even as the state sees record collection rates, the overall percentage of payments due to parents that is collected is about 60%.
Lowry says her office is currently focused on getting parents to sign up for child support sooner, and improving the accuracy of assistance phone calls while shortening their length. Looming state budget cuts make further improvements even more challenging.
"One of our goals is to make it harder for people not to pay their child support than to pay it," she says. "We still have a long way to go."
Source: State Journal-Register