State collects 60 cents on the dollar in child support

PORTLAND — Oregon's child support collection program brings in less than 60 cents of every dollar owed by parents — less than the national average.

State and county workers collected $264 million for families last year, but an additional $181 million went uncollected, partly because of antiquated computers, the recession and not enough collectors, The Oregonian reported.

Compared with 2009, the Oregon Department of Justice slipped last year in three of the five measures used by federal authorities: the percent of current child support collected, the percent of past-due support collected, and the cost-effectiveness of the state's program.

The latest audit by the secretary of state's office shows that delinquent child support payments now exceed $1 billion.

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger recently announced that the state Department of Justice, the agency that oversees the collections, earned the state a bonus check from the federal government in 2010.

"Despite the recession, Oregon performed well nationally, collecting badly needed money for Oregon's families," Kroger said in a statement. "I am very proud of this achievement."

But the newspaper said the department's computers are so old that officials aren't sure how many children got the child support they deserved last year. The agency listed "total children in caseload" at 236,281 for last year, but the number is misleading. Parents in one-fourth of those cases are not under orders to make payments because legal paperwork isn't done. In 11,000 of those cases, the state has yet to establish paternity.

Auditors also found that Oregon is far behind other states in getting that paperwork done. In 2008, the state ranked 39th.

Kroger shook up the state's child-support program after taking office two years ago, tasking veteran state attorney Jean Fogarty to improve results. She is now director of the Oregon Child Support Program.

Fogarty said in an interview that she wants to get the state collecting at least 65 percent of child support by 2012, amounting to an extra $13 million for Oregon children. But the recession, state funding challenges and weak laws pose a challenge.

More Oregon children than ever are missing financial support from a parent. When the monthly check isn't coming in, more and more families have to turn to taxpayers for help.

Fogarty said the Department of Justice isn't equipped to take online payments from parents or accept credit cards. She said her section's computer system had a five-year backlog of fixes when she took over.

"We have an antiquated mainframe that I like to say is held together with bubble gum and baling wire," Fogarty said. "It's one of the oldest systems in the country."

She has since cleared up the repair backlog and is using a federal grant to study how to update her program's computer system. Results are months away, and finding money to buy costly technology won't be easy, Fogarty said.

Still, the agency is making small steps forward. It's trying automated calls to remind parents about hearings related to child-support matters. Fogarty said parents seem more willing to write a child-support check if they're involved in such hearings.

Share This Story