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SC Child Support Fail: Present, Future Costs Skyrocket




Two-and-a-half years ago we brought our readers the latest on South Carolina’s “epic fail” with regard to creating a federally compliant child support enforcement database.  Since we published our report, things have only gotten worse … and costlier.

And the fleecing of Palmetto State taxpayers isn’t going to stop anytime soon …

First, a (very) brief history: In 1988 the federal government mandated the creation of a centralized computer system to monitor child support payments – and gave states ten years to set up their networks.  Not only did South Carolina fail to get its system up and running on time, but by 2006 it was the only state in the nation still lacking such a database – an ongoing failure which has resulted in the accumulation of tens of millions of dollars in fines.

Now, as we noted back in 2013 “the child support enforcement database is an unfunded mandate of the worst sort,” and “South Carolina’s judicial branch ought to be in charge of establishing its own system for handling child support payments – free from federal interference.”

But we’re not dealing with a principled stand against Washington overreach: We’re dealing with an agency that has blown mad stacks of taxpayer cash on a botched effort to build this system – and even more money on fines stemming from its failure.

The numbers are staggering – and depressing.

According to the latest report (.pdf here) from the scandal-scarred S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS), a whopping $145 million has been spent so far to create this system.

Only problem?  There’s still no system.

That’s right … twenty-seven years after the federal mandate was issued, twenty-three years after the state first began blowing money on this project and seventeen years after the deadline for its implementation, there’s still no system.

Oh, and in addition to the $145 million spent with absolutely nothing to show for it, the state has been assessed a whopping $135 million in federal penalties dating back to 1998 for its failure to produce this system.

Fortunately, $98 million of that tab has been paid by the first two vendors on the project – Unisys and Hewlett-Packard – but add up the remaining fines and program costs and we’re still looking at a total expense to taxpayers of nearly $200 million.

Again … with no system in place.

Unreal … and this is the agency that perpetually whines about not having enough money?

Ready for more?  According to SCDSS, the cost over the next six fiscal years to finally bring this system operational stands at roughly $200 million.

That’s right … another $200 million.

We wonder: Will they actually build it this time?

As we’ve pointed out on numerous prior occasions, SCDSS has been an unmitigated disaster since governor Nikki Haley took office in 2011 – most notably as it relates to instances in which vulnerable children were repeatedly placed in abusive homes.  But the agency’s failure is much bigger and broader than that.

And costlier …

As we noted earlier this week, deadbeat parents in South Carolina have racked up at least $1.5 billion in arrearages over the past five years – a number industry experts have suggested is likely much higher.

Again, we don’t think the federal government has the right to dictate to states how they collect child support – let alone issue fines for non-compliance.  But South Carolina never made that case.  Instead, it clumsily spent decades and hundreds of millions of tax dollars trying – and failing – to meet the federal standard.

All while falling further behind on its existing collection efforts.

In fact a recent MSNBC report noted that South Carolina ranks “below the national average in every single measure of how effectively it is collecting child support funds.”

Sheesh.  How long will state lawmakers tolerate this ongoing incompetence?  How much more of your money will be wasted?  And more to the point, who will be held accountable for this fleecing?