Beaver County Times

Thursday, September 23, 1999

Child-support woes

Kim Paskorz
Beaver County Times (Beaver, PA)
http:www.timesonline.com

Leianne Snyder must feed her two teenage children, and that takes cash.

Snyder's sole income -- a $358 child-support check -- comes, normally, every two weeks. Normally, it's on time.

But Snyder hasn't received her last two checks. The 36-year-old Monaca woman is running low on cash and blames a new glitch in an old system.

Snyder's husband pays child support on time. He has no choice. His employer, the state Department of Transportation, holds the court-ordered amount out of his paycheck and had been sending it off to the Beaver County Domestic Relations office every two weeks. Domestic Relations, in turn, sent it to Snyder.

That's how it worked for six years, Snyder said. That's also how it worked for approximately 22,000 Beaver County residents who either pay or receive child support.

But officials, by federal mandate, are in the process of eliminating the 67 county-based domestic relations departments' role in directing the child-support check flow.

Instead, one statewide child-support payment system - the State Centralized Collections and Disbursement Unit - will direct the support payments coming in and going out for the entire state.

Residents of counties in western Pennsylvania began sending their money to and receiving their checks from a SCDU office in the Harrisburg area on Sept. 1, and eastern counties are scheduled to join on Oct. 1.

Already the cash traffic has caused what Gene Steele of Beaver County Domestic Relations called a bottleneck.

Last week, complaints began coming in from support-payment recipients like Snyder, said Steele, the local Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System coordinator.

Last week, Steel and other members of a statewide advisory panel met in Harrisburg to discuss SCDU.

SCDU, which is being run by Lockheed-Martin, a private company that was subcontracted, is having some trouble adjusting to the rush, Steele said.

They are just minor start-up woes, said Jay Pagni, spokesman for the Department of Welfare. "Are we seeing widespread problems? No," Pagni said. "As problems arise, they are being addressed."

Pagni said on average, SCDU is turning the checks around in between 48 and 72 hours. "Some of the county offices took weeks to turn checks around," he said.

Neither Steele nor Pagni could comment on particular cases, such as Snyder's, but both pointed out there are other factors delaying particular checks, some of which are caused on the local level.

In some cases, money is being sent in without proper information as to where it should go.

In other cases, employers who withhold support payments are sending them to the county instead of the state, adding additional time in the turnaround.

And in yet other cases, recipients who have become accustomed to receiving checks once a week or every other week might now receive one larger check each month, Steele said.

"That depends on what the support order says," Pagni explained. Side agreements between check writers and receivers, such as check frequency, are not recognized by the computer system.

"These are all things people can correct," Pagni said.

Each county domestic relations office was accustomed to the particular flaws in the flow it saw on a regular basis - such as names that were consistently spelled wrong - and was able to keep the money moving, Steele said. In a short time, SCDU will have those problems ironed out and be on track, Steele said.

To Snyder, that doesn't sound reassuring.

Her rent, $350, is coming up on being due. Her car insurance is overdue. Her kids are still hungry.

"My son's school pictures were today. I had to put that on a credit card," Snyder said. "Come on, something is wrong."

Kim Paskorz can be reached online at kpaskorz@calkinsnewspapers.com