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20 years + millions in fines later, SC child support system goes live

South Carolina’s child-welfare agency is no longer failing to comply with a 1980s federal law that has cost the state millions of dollars in fines.

Late Thursday, the South Carolina Department of Social Services announced that its once overdue child-support system now is up and running statewide ahead of the agency’s October goal — much to the relief of S.C. lawmakers who oversee the agency in Columbia.

“We were promised it would be ready by October and they have fulfilled that promise,” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, chairwoman of the Senate’s Family and Veterans’ Services Committee, responsible for oversight of the Social Services department.

Shealy added: “Needless to say, we would have liked it to be 20-plus years ago, but we can’t blame that on them now.”

South Carolina is the last state to comply with a law Congress passed in 1988. The federal law required all states to build a statewide system to enforce collection of parents’ child-support payments. The original deadline to have the system running statewide was 1997.

Failing to comply with the law on deadline has led to more than $170 million in fines, much of which has been paid through various legal settlements with vendors, an agency spokesperson said. Developing the system also has come at a cost of tens of millions for the state.

Social Services has blamed the system delay on legal disputes with companies hired to build it.

“We’ve been paying millions of dollars in fines every year, fines that we should have never been paying,” Shealy said. “For lack of a better way of saying it, that was just a waste of money that could have been used for something better.”

Social Services said the new system will allow the more than 250,000 child support cases the state is responsible for tracking will be processed faster from the time a person applies for services. The new system also helps other states communicate with South Carolina’s — a known headache for parents who wait for payment from a parent living in another state.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said state Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, who chairs the Social Services’ Oversight subcommittee. “I’m thrilled that it’s finally happened.”

Shealy said her committee will continue to ask for progress reports.

“There’s always going to be issues,” Shealy said. “We need to make sure constituents are taken care of and employees and staff are working together to make it better for everybody in South Carolina.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.