13-year child support quest exposes state’s incompetency

A Shawnee County woman testified to Kansas lawmakers about the failures in the state's child support collection system.

By

State News

October 21, 2021 - 9:38 AM

Katie Whisman delivered a searing indictment of the state’s privatized child-support system Tuesday to a special legislative committee. Photo by (Screen capture of Kansas Legislature/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Shawnee County resident Katie Whisman’s testimony about failure of the state’s child support collection system to deliver more than $53,000 owed by her daughter’s father inspired a rousing assault by legislators on state contractors responsible for the mess.

Whisman proved no match for the bureaucratic indifference of companies managing the privatized system, despite bringing her skills as a veteran law enforcement officer to the battle. She said the system proved difficult to understand and even more challenging to navigate.

She offered statistical evidence of system failure that landed like punches of a boxer pounding away at a taxpayer: More than 103,000 cases are in arrears. Kansans are owed $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 clarity as to whether Kansas and the other states have the inclination to get the work done.

She said DCF and the state’s contractors engaged in blaming exercises whenever another gear slipped in the system. She documented 25 instances in which she visited a child support office, made phone calls or sent emails without progress. She repeatedly submitted the documents that were mishandled by contractors or DCF.

Kelly Lamson, representing YoungWilliams, said the company’s new contract with the state gave it authority of child support cases in 101 counties. Photo by (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

“I am here today because I am losing hope. I do not know where else to turn,” she told the Legislature’s special committee on child support Tuesday. “While I might be the only one in the room today sharing my experience with a failed system, I can assure you I am not the only one. They might be your friends, your neighbors, your fellow state employees. One thing is for certain: They are your constituents.”

Whisman, who brought her 18-year-old daughter to a committee meeting at the Capitol, asked House and Senate members to view child support as essential income for thousands of Kansas families. When not paid, she said, it spread financial strain and emotional stress through a custodial parent’s household.

Her presentation followed remarks by the Kansas Department for Children and Families and prefaced testimony by the two payment collection companies DCF awarded three-year contracts to Oct. 1 — Maximus and YoungWilliams. YoungWilliams previously controlled the Topeka area, but DCFs new contract moved oversight of Topeka to Maximus.

“I am not only here today to share my story, but to expose theirs, too,” Whisman said. “If I, with over 20 years’ experience in dealing with the Kansas legal system and understanding the ins and outs of state government, can’t move the needle on my case, what does that mean for those who are at an even greater disadvantage than I? We need advocates. And, even if you can’t help me, please, fix it for them.”

Before Whisman could sit down in the statehouse room, Republican senators and representatives lauded her courage for outlining in detail the extent of her family’s child-support misery.

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

“We’re failing a whole lot of other individuals who would be frustrated at the first step,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, the Sedgwick Republican and chair of the joint committee.

She said DCF would likely be called to testify about the Whisman case before the committee submitted recommendations to the full Legislature.

It was obvious from lawmakers’ initial remarks they were eager to dig into shortcomings of a system fully privatized in 2013 during the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback.

The state of Kansas previously fired Maximus for bungling the telephone call center used by people applying for KanCare, which is the Medicaid program in Kansas.

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