Ohio wants counties to get more aggressive in collecting owed child support.
The state quietly has launched an initiative called the “I-70 Project” urging every county to hit at least 70 percent on its collections by September 2015.
Only half the state’s 88 counties can make that claim now.
“Obviously, it’s good for families,” said Angela Terez, spokeswoman with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “They’re getting more of the money that they are owed. It’s win-win, because we get more money to help fund our programs, which also help families.”
The federal government is dangling additional cash for states as an incentive to boost their numbers. Terez said it’s not clear how much because it’s based on formulas.
Ohio gets $29 million now for child support efforts.
The average collection rate in Ohio is 66.6 percent, putting the state in the top 5 nationwide, Terez said. The state launched the I-70 Project initiative last fall.
Geauga County in Northeast Ohio led the state with an 83.7 percent rate during the 2012 federal fiscal year. Delaware County in central Ohio was second at 80.9 percent.
Meigs, along the Ohio River in southern Ohio, and Cuyahoga, home to Cleveland, were last at 59 percent and 59.6 percent, respectively. Meigs had the worst unemployment rate in the state’s most recent report, at more than 12 percent.
Collection rates for child support vary greatly because of such factors as caseload sizes and regional economies, experts say.
In the Akron area, Medina County was first with a 74.9 percent rate, ranking 17th statewide.
Wayne was 18th at 74.7 percent, Portage was 26th at 73.1 percent and Stark was 38th at 70.9 percent.
Summit County ranked 64th but was best among the state’s six big urban counties, collecting 66.3 percent in the 2012 federal fiscal year.
That rate has climbed to 68.3 percent this year, said Jennifer Bheam, head of the Summit County Child Support Enforcement Agency.
While a 2 percent increase might not seem like much, each 1 percent in Summit represents about $550,000, she said.
The county handled 48,774 cases and collected $74.8 million in the 2012 federal fiscal year.
The state estimates that parents owe $67.8 million in Summit, with an average of $268.73 per case.
To increase its collection rate, Summit has improved its employee training to work more like a private collections agency, and has started offering more programs, such as renewing driver’s licenses and lowering payment orders when necessary, to help parents who have trouble paying, Bheam said.
The county also is setting up a diversion program to allow people to go into an employment program instead of court, she said.
“For us, it has been the economy,” Bheam said.
Many parents lost good-paying jobs during the Great Recession and either haven’t found work or now taken lower-paying positions, she said.
Paul Reiman, assistant director of Geauga County Job and Family Services, attributed his county’s top rate to a variety of factors, including a proactive approach and lower caseloads for workers. Geauga handles almost 2,900 cases.
Then there are the attitudes of the parents themselves.
“Fortunately, Geauga County parents are financially responsible for their children,” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.