Collection of child support threatened by dispute

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 16, 2000

A private contractor that collects child support payments in Hinds and Warren counties said Tuesday it may pull out if it can’t agree with the state on a contract by the end of the month.

Up to 7,500 people in Warren County could be affected.

Maximus Inc. of McLean, Va., has been collecting child support payments under contract with Mississippi and the Department of Human Services since 1994. The arrangement was an idea put forward by then-Gov. Kirk Fordice as a possible money saver and put into place as a pilot program in the two counties. The attempt to have the program expanded to the entire state failed.

Officials from Maximus said Tuesday that if a new contract is not signed by Aug. 31, they will have to close their doors. The closure would jeopardize the jobs of some 78 Maximus employees.

A spokesman for DHS said talks are continuing with Maximus and said the department is doing all it can to make sure there is no disruption in client service.

A spokesman for DHS said this morning that Maximus was handling about 7,500 cases in Warren County in June 1999, the latest date for which figures were available. Each case could include one or several children.

“The department will do what is in the best interest of the client and will recommend the option that is most effective and cost efficient,” said Mary Ross, DHS deputy administrator for programs.

She also said the department is constrained by its appropriation legislation in what it can do.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg and a member of the DHS oversight committee, said allowing a disruption in the collection of child support services would be irresponsible.

He said he plans to meet with Maximus officials next week to try to resolve the situation. He said the issue boils down to money.

“Maximus is saying it cannot provide the services the state wants at the cost we appropriated,” Flaggs said.

Maximus is asking for $4.2 million, but state law allows only $2.4 million. The company can also receive bonuses from the federal government based on improved collection measures.

The senior member of the Warren County delegation said he believes a number of options are available, including extending the contract until the beginning of the fiscal year that begins in 2001.

“The taxpayers should not lose and if there is a disruption in services, they will lose,” Flaggs said, adding he had heard of no complaints about the quality of the services Maximus has provided.

Sen. Mike Chaney, a Republican, said he has a personal interest in seeing the contract with Maximus continued.

“I made the original motion in the special session in 1994,” he said.

At the time, Chaney was a member of the House occupying the same seat now held by Rep. Chester Masterson.

Chaney said he, too, would be surprised if the state let the contract with Maximus lapse.

“They have done well in Warren County,” he said. He said the number of complaints he receives about nonpayment of child support in Warren County is down to about two a year.

He also said he did not believe DHS could take over the work Maximus is doing in the two counties it serves.

Maximus officials were not available for comment.