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Child support amnesty nets about $2,000

August 23, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

While a two-week program designed to encourage parents to pay owed child support netted hundreds of thousands of dollars statewide, locally the program collected just more than $2,000.

The Washington County Department of Social Services reported that outstanding arrest warrants were terminated for two people, and a total of seven paid a portion of their overdue child support during the Child Support Amnesty Program. The local office collected $2,070 in back payments.

County Department of Social Services Director David Engle said the numbers were low because the county has been vigilant in child support cases and maintains an above-average collection rate compared to departments around the state.

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"I'm not going to say it's disappointing," Engle said. "I think we brought a lot of attention to the program."

During a previous amnesty program, the county office collected about $8,000 in overdue payments.

The Department of Social Services oversees about 5,600 court-ordered child support cases in Washington County. About 75 percent of the cases are up-to-date on payments, in contrast with about 62 percent statewide, Engle said.

The amnesty program ran Aug. 1 to 13 and offered a second chance to parents who were behind on child support payments. If payments are behind more than 30 days, officials can issue an arrest warrant and take the case to court.

Engle said the program collected $568,000 statewide from about 3,000 people, roughly one-tenth of the number who were targeted.

Washington County's office sent letters to about 500 people who either had outstanding warrants for child support nonpayment or were flagged for other reasons, including those who had suspended driver's licenses due to outstanding payments or large unpaid amounts.

Engle said many who are behind on child support payments live out of state. While there are federal laws that allow the tracking of those individuals, it is harder to enforce child support in those cases.

Engle said the Washington County Sheriff's Department regularly follows up on child support cases and credited the department with the county's high payment rate.

Engle said those who did not respond to the amnesty program should expect harsher enforcement in the coming weeks.

"People who didn't take advantage of this opportunity might hear from us in - what do I want to say - a less-negotiable fashion," Engle said.

This year's amnesty program was coordinated in conjunction with Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia officials.

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