Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Child support
agency opens
in Kapolei

More employees are sought to
improve customer service

By Craig Gima


On the first day after the Child Support Enforcement Agency officially moved, vans were still hauling office furniture and boxes of files from the old offices in the Dole Cannery to the state office building across from the Kapolei theaters.

The walk-up window on the second floor was open to answer questions from parents, but Richard Teel and others had trouble finding it because there are no signs on the office building or in the first-floor lobby to indicate the agency's location. A makeshift directory doesn't even list the agency as being in the building.

"It would be better if it had a sign out front, or a directory at least," said Teel, who said he asked a police officer for directions.

Back at the state Capitol, agency Administrator Michael Meaney and Attorney General Margery Bronster told legislators that customer service is a top priority this year. They also asked for the authority to hire 20 more customer-service employees so that the Child Support Enforcement Agency will be able to work on problems that surfaced after the agency converted to its new Keiki computer system in July.

As the Star-Bulletin reported last month, thousands of parents had late or missing checks and were not able to talk to agency workers because of problems with the Keiki system and a new automated phone system.

Meaney told a joint House and Senate committee that the problems should not happen again and are related, in part, to a lack of staffing. He said it took other states about a year to deal with the transition to a new system, and added that most of the problems with missing checks caused by the transition to Keiki should be solved within the next two months.

Bronster said that the agency's caseworkers handle about 1,000 cases each and that the national average is about 373 cases per case worker.

The money to pay for the new customer-service employees would come from the federal government and should not require more money from the state, Meaney said.

After the hearing, Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley) expressed skepticism that additional personnel would solve the agency's customer-service problems.

"I think it will help, but it seems like a lot of the problems are operational," he said.

Lawmakers and some in the audience also questioned why the agency isn't doing more to collect about $300 million owed in delinquent child-support payments.

Kathleen Keeler said she is owed $113,000 in back child support for her children and has not been able to get the agency to collect it. "I call it the child en-farce-ment agency," she said.

Meaney said the agency collects about 53 percent of the amount due each month for child support and about 31 percent of all child support due, above the national average of 18 percent.

He said, however, that the agency has only one attorney for judicial enforcement of delinquent child-support cases in the state. Guam, he said, has six attorneys working on child support.

Meaney also said some of the child support due may be uncollectable because the delinquent parents may not be able to work and earn a living.

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