AUGUSTA (AP) – Federal welfare officials lauded the state for its use of a computer system to collect and distribute child support checks and said the system may be why Maine is one of only a dozen to meet all federal requirements.

“You are getting more money to more kids and keeping people off welfare better than about anywhere,” Sherri Heller, commissioner of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, told state Department of Human Services officials.

Heller made her comments during a meeting with department officials being held to note the state child support division had met all of the requirements set forth in federal welfare reform legislation passed in 1996.

Maine is one of 12 states that passed a federal audit for its data reliability for two consecutive years. As a result, it received all federal incentive money, “a very unusual distinction,” Heller said.

The state earned $2.4 million money for good performance in 2002. The national average for such programs is $4.33 collected in child support for every $1 spent. In Maine, every $1 spent brings in $4.99.

The computer program tracks the income of those who owe child support, so if someone gets a raise, a case worker may be able to request more money. If a parent loses a job, it also informs case workers of more realistic amounts.

Acting state Human Services Commissioner John Nicholas, who was recently nominated to take over as the head of a proposed new human services agency, said he was impressed with the work of the child support division.

“This demonstrates what we can accomplish,” Nicholas said. “There are ways to leverage technology to achieve this kind of performance. But never forget, it depends on the dedication of our staff.”

AP-ES-03-27-04 1223EST



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