Kansas agency responds to child support critics

8/22/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — A state social services agency spokeswoman is defending the decision to privatize child support services in Kansas after critics claimed the state system was set up to fail due to understaffing and poor policy decisions.

TOPEKA (AP) — A state social services agency spokeswoman is defending the decision to privatize child support services in Kansas after critics claimed the state system was set up to fail due to understaffing and poor policy decisions.

The Department for Children and Families awarded four contracts in June to companies that will administer the child support program in the state's 31 judicial districts. Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for the agency, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that the contracts were awarded properly and none of the companies were given preferential treatment.

"Despite numerous efforts to dispel myths about how the contracts were awarded, certain people continue to believe what they want to believe," Freed said in an email to the Capital-Journal. "There is zero evidence to back up assumptions that the contract process was anything but fair."

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, has said that an email from a state employee suggests the agency was hampered in doing its job to clear the way for privatizing the system.

Freed said the head of the child support division has tried to speak with Hensley but he hasn't returned telephone calls. Messages left for Hensley regarding his conversations with DCF weren't immediately returned Wednesday.

Freed also dismissed claims that Gov. Sam Brownback had any role in awarding the contracts. Officials with one of the companies had given campaign donations to Brownback's gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

Three private companies were given contracts to cover 30 of the state's 31 judicial districts. The remaining district, Sedgwick County, was awarded its own five-year contract for $14.8 million.

The contractors will help residents apply for public assistance, establish paternity, locate parents and obtain court orders to collect child support. Private contractors already were often hired to collect on child support orders.

Mississippi-based YoungWilliams Child Support Services will control 23 judicial districts covering 70 counties, a bid worth $48.2 million over five years. Veritas HHS of Colorado will operate the Wyandotte County office for $8.7 million, and Kansas attorney Lee Fisher will cover six districts spanning 33 rural counties for $3.2 million. The fourth contract was with Sedgwick County.

Privatizing the system will force the state to lay off 187 workers, but Freed said those employees would have first opportunity for jobs with the contractors. She said the agency had hired few new employees over the past nine months in advance of the privatization.

She said the agency had "historically been overstaffed and inefficient." Freed said privatization would increase child support collections and better serve children and families.

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