South Carolina family welfare officials insist they are doing all they can to get a child support database up and running, but say it will still be 2019 before the required system is operational. And at least one single mother says that’s unacceptably long for parents struggling with deadbeat partners.
Department of Social Services officials provided another update Wednesday on the much-delayed database, which Congress required states to have under a 1988 law. South Carolina has paid $145 million in fines the past two decades for not having the system operational by a ten-year deadline. DSS believes it finally has a system lined up via the vendor Xerox that is based on a similar database in Delaware.
Project lead Jimmy Early told senators Wednesday it will take two more years to build and test the complicated system, plus an additional year to train employees and phase it in. “The trick is not just throwing bodies at something, but finding qualified staff who could come in and contribute without a six-month learning curve,” he said in answer to senators’ concerns the project is understaffed. He said the design and implementation work should finish by October 2018 and another 12 months before every South Carolina county is using the database.
But Gina Arnold, a Spartanburg mother who attended the hearing, says thousands of families like her own are being hurt each month the system is not in place. “It does not take three years to write a program,” she insisted at Early. “You can sit there and say, yes it does, but it does not take three years to write a program. It does not take 30 years to get a system into place.” She noted Greenville and Charleston counties are already using smaller versions of the database on the local level.
Arnold hoped the new database would be able to send an automatic alert to family court whenever a parent does not pay child support, rather than the physical paperwork DSS offices must file now. The new system will allow counties to communicate with each other and keep better tabs on parents in the system to make sure payments are made on time and withhold money from their paychecks when it is not.
DSS has hit roadblock after roadblock on the project, getting into legal disputes with two previous vendors that would have designed the system (including a settlement reached last year with Hewlett-Packard). The latest project has already cost the state more than $100 million, according to DSS records, with a likely future cost of nearly $70 million more.
State Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, urged DSS officials to find ways to shorten the timeline. “If there’s anything we can do to move that forward, and still have confidence that we’re going to get that in place, I know this committee encourages it,” he told Early.
Early assured Young DSS is looking for ways to cut into the work schedule, including rolling it out to counties all at once, but said more than 700 employees will need to be trained before full implementation can take effect.