COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) — The South Carolina Department of Social Services gave state senators an update Thursday on the state’s child support enforcement computer system, which is decades overdue. Jimmy Earley, who’s managing the project at DSS, told a Senate oversight subcommittee that the system is on schedule to be up and running statewide by September 30, 2019. It will be rolled out first in three pilot counties–York, Fairfield, and Aiken–in October 2018.
Senators had asked DSS to see if there’s any way to speed up the timeline by hiring more people to work on the system. The state has been fined by the federal government every year that the system has not been ready, and will pay another fine of about $13.5 million on September 30th of this year. The state has already paid more than $145 million in fines over the decades it hasn’t had a working system. About half of those fines have been paid by the companies the state hired but didn’t deliver a working system.
But Earley told senators speeding up the timeline wouldn’t make financial sense. “Applying resources and making additional investments to save four, five, six months will not save us any money in terms of penalties. We would have to, because of the way the timeline unfolded, have to cut an entire year off the project, and to do that, again, you would spend as much as we would hope to save,” he told senators.
South Carolina is the only state in the nation that doesn’t have an automated child support enforcement system. A federal law required the state to have one by 1997, but the company the state hired to build it quit not long before it was due. That led to a court battle that took years and prevented the state from working on it.
Once that was settled, the state hired another company, but fired it after it missed deadlines. Now, instead of trying to build a new system from scratch, the state is using one that’s already in use in Delaware. However, Earley says 30 to 35 percent of it has to be changed to fit South Carolina’s needs, mainly that the state currently has 46 different systems, one in each county.
Having one, statewide system will make it easier to find deadbeat parents and make it easier to collect the money they owe. And, for the first time, the state will be connected to other states’ systems, making it faster and easier to find parents who’ve moved to other states but owe money in South Carolina.