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If DHS gets its way, one county-run program is facing end

WILLMAR -- A plan being advanced by the state Department of Human Services to eliminate county child support programs and replace them with a state-operated regional system is getting a skeptical review from the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

Currently, counties provide the services, including investigating paternity and securing child support payments from non-custodial parents.

In Kandiyohi County, for every $1 spent, another $5 in revenue is generated for children, Family Services director Jay Kieft said.

"We do a really good job of service," he said.

However, not all counties have a good success rate and there are inconsistencies in how counties deliver the services. So, the Department of Human Services is seeking options for streamlining the program.

The department has hired a consultant, Deloitte, to look at three options: state-operated regional offices, county-operated regional offices with enhanced governance and county-operated with enhanced governance.

Kieft said the Department of Human Services recently decided to pursue the state-operated option.

The plan, which would cost $20 million to implement, could have annual savings of $22.9 million, according to Deloitte.

Based on costs to implement past Department of Human Services programs, Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the $20 million implementation figure would likely triple before the process was complete.

"I don't hold a lot of faith in the graphs and numbers," said Madsen.

Kieft said the Department of Human Services plan requires legislative approval, and a $20 million allocation. Because that kind of money may be difficult to find when the state has a deficit, it's possible legislators may not approve the program may this year.

Kieft, who is maintaining a neutral position on the three options, was nonetheless frustrated with the investigative methods Deloitte used in reaching the conclusions. He said counties, that have ground-floor knowledge of how the federally funded services are delivered, were not consulted.

The Deloitte study also looked strictly at numbers when comparing Minnesota to other states and didn't consider customer service, said Kieft, adding that a state-operated system will likely result in "less personal and less robust service."

Madsen questioned why the Department of Human Services singled out the child support services program at this time when counties and the state are just starting to work together on a total redesign that could include regionalizing all county services to create efficiencies and cost savings.

"This flies in the face of redesign," Madsen said.

The commissioners will address the issue next month and will likely take action on a resolution encouraging the Department of Human Services and the Legislature to consider a different option than a state operated system that would still create a more efficient system and savings statewide.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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