County officials held an open house Monday in conjunction with August as Child Support Awareness Month to recognize that receipt of regular support payments will assist in ensuring children grow up safe and healthy and that children stay out of poverty.
Deb Ortiz-Flores is now pulling double duty as the director of both Lucas County CSEA and JFS. She stated during an open house Monday that the portal adds a new level of convenience for divorced or single moms trying to keep track of their support payments.
“We know that not everyone has access to the Internet or has computers,” she said. “One of the things the state took leadership on is to for people to have access to their case information. No one else manages my bank account, so no one else should manage your child support account.”
Ms. Ortiz-Flores also pointed out the service is available on line and by mobile phone, calling it “accessible to everyone.”
“In Lucas County, we have over 55,000 children that are waiting on support from either their father or their mother,” she said. “We’re working really hard to make sure we’re spending our time working on the cases, as opposed to handing out printed information that’s housed in our computer systems.”
“Lucas County is on the cutting edge,” said Ohio JFS Director Colbert, pointing out that CSEA has instituted Fast Track Fridays and Wednesdays at the Library, two special times where clients can meet face-to-face caseworkers to update their child support case information. “Our goal is to make it easier for parents to pay their support so they can meet their responsibilities. We have to take a common sense approach to that.”
But the portal is one more way to answer client questions without tying up caseworker time, which instead can be devoted to enforcing child support orders to ensure kids get what they need. Any notion of adding more staff is unrealistic, because Ms. Ortiz-Flores told the crowd financial resources at the agency are steadily shrinking.
“We also know that families are challenged economically and some of the services we’re highlighting through Child Support Awareness Month are here all the time,” she said.
“People are just afraid to come here. People are afraid to just let us know what they’re situation is like. The doors are always open; you may not like some of the information that we provide you, but you have to ask the questions so we can give you the answers.”
More than $2 billion is collected each year statewide to help about 1 million children who are eligible to receive child support. More than 68,000 kids are in Lucas County’s child support system alone.
“It’s very important to these children for food, clothing, for housing, get the necessary dollars that they need to support their families and to also support their need,” said Colbert. “It’s also important that we break down barriers for our families and for the people that are paying child support. We need to see that they can continue to work.”
The state JFS director pointed out two recent bills that passed the Ohio General Assembly that keep deadbeat dads out of jail and on the job, so that children continue to receive support, as well as help those who were incarcerated enhance their ability to find a good job once they’re released from prison.
House Bill 86 gives judges more discretion in sentencing parents for not paying support, allowing them to impose alternative community sanctions instead of prison sentences. The bill also makes it possible for ex-offenders to get a ‘Certificate of Achievement and Employability’ when they’ve completed an approved program, to make it easier for them to get jobs after their release.
“These alternative sanctions are much better than sending someone to jail,” said Colbert. “If you send somebody to jail, you’re not going to collect your child support. If you send somebody to jail, they’re not working and they’re going to become a burden to the taxpayer instead of paying taxes. The old system did not work.”
Senate Bill 337 eliminated so-called “collateral sanctions” on many crimes. Collateral sanction is a legal penalty, disability or disadvantage, however denominated, that is imposed on a person automatically upon that person’s criminal conviction, even if it is not included in the sentence.
The bill essentially allows parents who haven’t paid their support to keep their professional licenses, so they can keep working, grants limited driving privileges to parents whose drivers’ licenses have been suspended because of nonpayment of a support order, and allows child support orders involving incarcerated parents to be modified or suspended, taking into account the fact that they have no income while they are in prison.
“(The bill) became the model across the nation for breaking down barriers,” Colbert said. “When you come out, we can’t hammer you, because you need to gain employment very quickly so you can begin paying child support.”
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken related a story of a former co-worker at Toledo Jeep who went to jail for nonpayment of child support. After spending eight years behind bars, he was $84,000 in arrears on child support when he got out and had lost his job.
“It was all because nobody told anybody he wasn’t making any money anymore,” he said. “So that guy was lost the minute he got out of jail.”
Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak stated the CSEA since has worked with other agencies on a fatherhood initiative to keep dads connected to their kids and child support payments coming to them as part of that increased parental involvement.
“(The program aims) to really reach out and find out what is it fathers really need to take care of their children, a collaborative effort with the courts,” she said.