Deadline today for child-support company

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2000

Jeanine Hoggatt is one who hopes the state and a private company that helps collect child-support payments in Warren and Hinds counties can reach an agreement before 5 today.

Maximus, Inc., of McLean, Va., has had a contract since 1994 to handle child-support cases and help collect payments from absent parents. The contract was awarded as part of a pilot program by former Gov. Kirk Fordice to put some of the functions of the Department of Human Services into private hands. Fordice believed the idea could save money, but lawmakers balked at putting it into effect statewide.

In the pilot program, the state has allowed Maximus to receive $2.4 million. It also was able to receive bonuses from the federal government if collections improved ahead of the those made by state workers.

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On Aug. 15, officials from Maximus said they had not been able to reach an agreement with the state for a new contract. They also said they were preparing to close their offices in Vicksburg and Jackson.

Those plans were still in effect Wednesday, said Bob Johnson, head of the Maximus office in Jackson.

“We are still preparing to shut down,” he said.

In the meantime, negotiations were still going on, and Johnson said the company was hopeful.

“We got the latest version of a contract off to them” Tuesday, he said, “but we have not heard back.”

“I guess I will have to go back to DHS,” said Hoggatt, the Vicksburg mother of a 15-year-old daughter for whom she receives child-support payments.

She has been supposed to get the payments since her daughter was born, but had problems early on, before Maximus took over.

“I’m trying to be nice, but they (DHS) lost my case several times,” she said.

Hoggatt said she started off dealing with the DHS office in Jackson. Since then, she has dealt with DHS offices in Bolton and Yazoo City before ending up with the office in Vicksburg.

“Every time, it seemed like I would have to start off at ground zero,” she said, adding she was told the state agency could only help if she found out where her daughter’s father was living and working.

Maximus took over her case in 1994.

“They asked me his name and Social Security number and where he was last employed,” she said. “I don’t know who talked to him but he sent a check to Maximus.”

In addition to getting back payments, Hoggatt said Maximus has been able to get her daughter’s medical insurance covered by the father, and company employees have called her or asked her to come to their office when there was something she needed to know.

“They (DHS) never would return my calls,” Hoggatt said.

The prospect of having to go back to the DHS upsets Hoggatt.

“I just hope there’s no interruption when they do take over,” she said.

At the same time, she wonders why the state does not keep Maximus doing its job for her and other parents who receive child support.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” she asked.