ANNAPOLIS – A $100 million computer system that pays child support checks and determines welfare eligibility continues to hit snags in Montgomery County, delaying its statewide implementation.
The computer system would reduce errors and paper work by automatically determining a client’s eligibility for public assistance, food stamps and medical care. A second database would keep track of what parents owe for child support, and help to find parents who don’t pay.
The system is finally working in 19 of Maryland’s 24 social services jurisdictions, officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
But problems with the child-support portion in Montgomery County have put off installment in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, as well as Baltimore – subdivisions that state officials say make up 70 percent of the state’s welfare caseload.
“Montgomery County is a huge obstacle that is essential to overcome,” said Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee panel that reviews the Department of Human Resources’ budget.
Alvin Collins, secretary of the Department of Human Resources, agreed. “We cannot progress until Montgomery County is ironed out,” he said. “We have to postpone indefinitely.”
The volume of child support cases in Montgomery County was too much for the system to handle, said Larry Bennett, manager for Andersen Consulting, the company now running the system.
“We had duplicating cases appear on the screen, and some cases not identified at all,” he said.
Bennett said Montgomery County is the largest county in which the computer system has been tried.
The system has had difficulties there from the outset. In February, Montgomery County attempted to go on-line, but was forced to back off. Collins attributed some of the problems to the rush to get up and running.
State officials have been hearing about problems with the system since it was approved in October 1990, and lawmakers’ patience is wearing thin.
“I am so fed up with this thing,” said Sen. Patrick Hogan, R-Montgomery. “It is waste of time and a waste of money.”
Statewide computerization is already three years behind schedule. Human Resources officials said the delay was due to an array of problems:
* Poor contractor performance. The first $34.8 million contract was with Systemhouse, but Human Resources severed the relationship in August 1994, Collins said. Andersen came on board this year, with a $63 million contract.
* Software difficulties.
* The reluctance of local officials to replace their systems.
* Changes in the project’s scope because of welfare reform.
* Lack of leadership. The project is overseen by five federal and state agencies, but the position of project manager has not yet been filled.
Of the $106 million that Maryland has set aside for the system through 1999, about $60 million should come from the federal government, according to Collins. The Administration for Children and Families has agreed to pay for 75 percent of the system and half the operating costs.
J.C. Shay, Human Resources spokesperson, said Maryland is among the first states to try such massive computerization. Other states are required by federal law to develop child support systems by Oct. 1, 1997.
“Despite its problems, Maryland is a leader in using this new program,” Shay said. -30-