Thirteen-year quest for child support payments exposes Kansas bureaucracy and incompetence

TOPEKA – Shawnee County resident Katie Whisman’s testimony about the state’s child support collection system’s failure to pay more than $ 53,000 owed by her daughter’s father has inspired a violent aggression by lawmakers against state contractors responsible for the mess.

Whisman was no match for the bureaucratic indifference of the companies running the privatized system, although she did bring her skills as a veteran law enforcement officer to the battle. She said the system has proven difficult to understand and even harder to navigate.

She offered statistical evidence of a system failure that landed like a boxer’s punches hitting a taxpayer: more than 103,000 cases are pending. The Kansans owe $ 842 million in unpaid child support. Only 55% of payment orders generate cash.

There are 11,000 cases, including Whisman’s, hanging in interstate limbo with no specifics as to whether Kansas and the other states are willing to do the job.

She said DCF and state contractors engaged in blame drills whenever other equipment slipped into the system. She documented 25 cases in which she went to a child support office, made phone calls or sent emails with no progress. She repeatedly submitted documents that were mishandled by contractors or the DCF.

Rachel Zietlow, vice president of Maximus, center, said the Katie Whisman case Maximus inherited on October 1 was unfortunate and the company would prioritize Whisman’s appeal for help to raise $ 53,000 unpaid child support. (Screenshot / Kansas Reflector)

“I am here today because I am losing hope. I don’t know who to turn to, ”she told the Legislative Assembly’s special committee on child support on Tuesday. “While I might be the only one in the room to share my experience with a failed system, I can assure you that I am not the only one. They could be your friends, your neighbors, your fellow government employees. One thing is certain: they are your constituents.

Whisman, who bought his 18-year-old daughter from a committee meeting on Capitol Hill, called on members of the House and Senate to view child support as essential income for thousands of Kansas families. When unpaid, she said, it spreads financial strain and emotional stress in the custodial parent’s household.

His presentation followed remarks from the Kansas Department for Children and Families and prefaced testimony from the two payment collection companies. DCF awarded three-year contracts as of October 1 – Maximus and YoungWilliams. YoungWilliams previously controlled the Topeka region, but DCF’s new contract transferred Topeka’s oversight to Maximus.

“I’m not only here today to share my story, but also to expose theirs,” said Whisman. “If, with over 20 years of experience dealing with the Kansas legal system and understanding the ins and outs of state government, I can’t move my case forward, what does that mean?” for those who are even more disadvantaged? than me? We need lawyers. And, even if you can’t help me, please fix it for them.

Before Whisman could sit in the Hall of State House, Senators and Republican officials praised his courage for describing in detail the extent of his family’s child support misery.

“What a mess,” said Rep. Tory Arnberger, R-Great Bend. “What a mess. I’m so frustrated for you.

“We are failing a lot of other people who would be frustrated at the first step,” said Senator Carolyn McGinn, Republican from Sedgwick and chair of the joint committee.

She said the DCF would likely be called to testify on the Whisman case before the committee makes recommendations to the entire legislature.

It was clear from the initial remarks of lawmakers that they were eager to dig into the loopholes of a fully privatized system in 2013 under the administration of Governor Sam Brownback.

The state of Kansas previously fired Maximus for spoiling the call center used by people applying to KanCare, Kansas’ Medicaid program.

As part of the new contracts issued by DCF, the unified call center for child support payments managed by Maximus has been closed. Maximus and YoungWilliams now handle their own client calls related to child support.

In terms of territory, Maximus is responsible for child support cases in Wyandotte, Sedgwick, Johnson and Shawnee counties. YoungWilliams has jurisdiction in the other 101 counties. Under the old contracts, DCF had four companies handling child support cases.

“How is it that we are taking over contracts with groups that have served us so badly?” Said Senator Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg. “How is Maximus going to approach what has really been a very failed process? Give us your opinion.”

Rachel Zietlow, senior vice president of U.S. services at Maximus of Reston, Va., Said the company is committed to providing a positive customer experience for Kansans involved in the child support system. She said Whisman’s situation was unfortunate.

“I know Maximus is committed to putting the customer experience first,” Zietlow said. “It aims to help non-custodial parents overcome barriers to supporting their children. “

Kelly Lamson, representing YoungWilliams, said the company’s new contract with the state gave her authority over child support cases in 101 counties. The company plans to work with Maximus to resolve Katie Whisman’s plea for the recovery of child support owed to her. (Screenshot / Reflector Kansas)

“Have you contacted this person? Baumgardner asked.

Zietlow said no, but the company had his testimony and “that’s something we’re going to prioritize.”

Kelly Lamson, who oversees project operations for YoungWilliams in Kansas, said the company has invested in its people so they have the skills to provide highly professional customer service. YoungWilliams has worked in child support in Kansas since 2013.

Representative Shannon Francis, R-Liberal, said YoungWilliams should explore what elements of its delivery system led to the problems Whisman described.

“Are they endemic to your business? ” he said.

Lamson said Whisman’s testimony was heartbreaking. She said there were significant legal barriers to collecting child support from a self-employed parent living in another state who refused to pay. These factors make it difficult for Kansas to seize wages, she said.

“I just cannot comment specifically on any case due to confidentiality,” Lamson said. “I will really refrain from commenting on a particular case.”

In 2020, DCF received a report assessing the state’s child support system. The evaluation concluded that Kansas needed to modernize its processes and upgrade the computer network used to process cases.

Midwest Evaluation and Research, an Emporia consultancy, concluded that it would take a dedicated group of politicians, administrators and advocates to break resistance to reform.

“A lack of support at the highest levels of leadership in Kansas could be one of the reasons Kansas lags behind other states in terms of implementing changes that could build a high performing agenda that sticks together. ranks first nationally, ”the report said.

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