South Carolina's antiquated child support system costing state millions

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Parents across the United States owe $116 billion in child support, according to a 2016 preliminary report from the Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Click here to read the full report.

One local woman reached out to WMBF News looking for answers after she says she had exhausted all other efforts to get South Carolina Child Support Enforcement to help find her ex-husband and make him pay his share of that staggering number.

"I've contacted the state of Maryland. I've contacted the state of South Carolina. I've written to senators. I've finally reached out to you because I figured the public needed to be aware of all of this, too," said Katie Chantron. "I've done emails. I've probably got 60 emails plus, back and forth with my caseworker, and nothing."

Chantron and her ex-husband divorced in 2006. The couple has one daughter together, and with the exception of just a few payments, Chantron said she has never been given the money she's owed for child support.

"I've raised her basically by myself," Chantron said. "She hasn't been able to do some of the things she's wanted to do because … single income, single mom."

Chantron said, at this point, she's almost lost hope on the more than $45,000 she's been court ordered to receive the past 11 years.

"I honestly don't see me ever getting a payment," Chantron said.

But while she is frustrated with her ex-husband, her real problem lies with the state agency she depends on to make sure she gets the money she is owed.

"The more I read, the more I am shocked that anyone would let this go on for as long as it has," Chantron said. "We are supposed to rely on our government and trust in our government, but when we go to them, we get no help from them at all. We get stonewalled or pushed to the side."

However, she said she's not about to give up on sharing what she has discovered through her experience.

"South Carolina is the last state; the last state; the only state that doesn't have this. That's the problem," Chantron said. "It's either they don't care, or it's not a priority to them."

What she's referring to is an automated and centralized child support enforcement computer system. South Carolina is the only state in the country without one. WMBF took Chantron's concerns to the State House to find out why.

"I think the fact that it has taken us 30 years to do it is absolutely ridiculous," said state Sen. Katrina Shealy.

Right now, all 46 counties in the state and the Department of Social Services use different computer systems. But the new one would change that, making it easier to find deadbeat parents, to collect the money they owe, and connect South Carolina's enforcement to other state systems.

However, it's taking decades to do this.

In 1988, the federal government required all states to upgrade the way they handle child support enforcement, and the states were given almost 10 years to make that happen.

But it never did in South Carolina.

Since then, the Palmetto State has accrued over $145 million in fines on top of millions more in project costs.

Click here to read the complete status report on the Child Support Enforcement System.

"It's a waste of money. It's negligent spending. It's ridiculous, and every time we have a meeting we ask [DSS], 'Can we speed it up?'… 'Well no, if we speed it up we might make a mistake.' Well, how many more mistakes can we make?" Shealy said.

It's millions of dollars that Shealy says could be spent on children and families, law enforcement, or even South Carolina's crumbling roads.

She is a part of the Senate General Committee subcommittee that has taken personal responsibility for overseeing the Department of Social Service's progress, getting frequent updates from the project engineer, Jimmy Earley.

Up until February 2017, he has said the project is on schedule and set to be in place statewide by September 30, 2019.

"No problems at this point," Earley told the subcommittee earlier this year. "Still a lot of risk, still a lot of work to be done, but nothing today that I would identify as an obstacle that would keep us from hitting that time frame."

But in Shealy's eyes, the damage has already been done.

"Some of these questions I don't have an answer for because we get angry, we disagree with what they are doing, but we have wasted so much money now, you can't turn around and go back and start over again," she said.

The project is now in the hands of its third vendor since 1995.

The first company quit after tests of the system failed, locking its progress up in the court system.

Then in 2007, Saber Corporation took up the job, but that company was bought out by Hewlett-Packard a few years later and failed to meet several deadlines. That forced DSS to fire them and stop the work yet again.

Those companies did pay a large part of the fines put on S.C., more than $85 million. However, it took until 2015 to get the company the state has now, Xerox.

And while the project seems to be nearing an end, every day the fines continue to add up.

"The fault lies on a lot of people. It's a lot of wasted money that shouldn't have happened," Shealy said.

Below is a statement from DSS project engineer Jimmy Earley: 

The new automated child support enforcement system that will soon be deployed in South Carolina is a federally certified system that is being transferred from the state of Delaware.   The State, along with our system integration partner, is making good progress with the development work required to customize this application for SC.   The project is approximately 50% complete and the system will first be implemented in three pilot counties in October of 2018.  Statewide deployment will be complete in September of 2019.

WMBF News attempted to reach Chantron's ex-husband to get his side of this story, but the only number his ex-wife had for him didn't work.

Copyright 2017 WMBF News. All rights reserved.