Privatizing Child Support Collection Option for DHS

By: Courtney Ann Jackson Email
By: Courtney Ann Jackson Email

Jackson, Miss. Many people depend on child support payments to help meet living expenses. But the state is struggling to track down deadbeat parents.

Now, the state of Mississippi has a way to help get those payments collected.

A new law allows the Department of Human Services to enter into contracts with private companies to help their efficiency.

DHS says the average unpaid amount of child support each month is around $16 million statewide. That totals nearly $200 million in unpaid support each year.

Parents like Melanie Little say they find themselves waiting for child support payments more frequently than they receive them. She says the system is broken.

"I could do it better than the state does," said Little. "I have to call and give the state his address, give the state his phone number, give his tag number. They're not doing anything for collections at all. Anybody can collect better than the state of Mississippi does right now."

Little created a Facebook page less than a week ago that quickly gained the attention of other parents in the same situation. And she discovered many are waiting on even more than the few thousands that she's owed.

"There's a lot of people out there that eat ham sandwiches every night for supper just because the absent parent will not help," Little said.

A Performance Evaluation Expenditure Review report on child support privatization was ordered by the legislature earlier this year to determine if it could be beneficial.

"This report, in part, is a best practice look. If you're going to do this, here's what you must do," said Max Arinder, executive director of PEER.

The government watchdog group found that better documentation is needed.

"We have privatized some things but we're not maintaining the data necessary to determine whether that privatization is truly cost effective," Arinder said.

The DHS Child Support Call Center is already privatized, but not the collections department.

Mississippi previously tried to privatize that in the 90s with a pilot program. But it had little success. Ultimately they found the state could do the job for less money.

"That doesn't mean it could not be successful if you had a better structure," said Arinder. "If you had better accountability perhaps you could reap the benefits."

"As long as it does not reduce the amount of support owed or the amount of support received. If anyone feels like I do, anything received would be wonderful," said Little.

Right now no moves are being made to privatize the system but the option is there if the department chooses to use it.


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