February 7, 2013 9:38:00 AM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi Department of Human Services could hire private companies to handle child support collections under a bill that passed the state Senate on Wednesday.
Sen. Nancy Adams Collins, R-Tupelo, said Mississippi has one of the worst records of collections in the nation and private vendors might make the process more efficient. She said the state could be divided into regions, with private vendors handling collections in some areas and state workers continuing to handle collections in others. That would allow officials to compare statistics to see which method works better.
"This is just smart government," Collins said.
Mississippi used a Virginia-based company, Maximus Inc., to collect overdue child support from 1995 to 2000.
"I remember the disaster that Maximus was," Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said during the debate Wednesday.
Maximus spent more but collected less money for overdue child support payments in Hinds and Warren counties, on average, than DHS did in the rest of the state from 1996-2000, according to a report issued in October 2000, by the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.
Responding in 2000 to the PEER report, a Maximus spokesman said that if 1995 were included, the company's results would've looked better for the two counties. The spokesman said Maximus increased collections 109 percent between 1995 and 2000.
Bryan said people pushing for privatization now should instead ask why the Department of Human Services hasn't had better leadership the past eight years. The agency's executive director is appointed by the governor, and the executive director chooses leaders of the programs DHS handles, including child support collections.
Senate Bill 2734 passed 35-16. It goes to the House for more debate.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, tried to change the bill to specify that DHS could hire only Mississippi-based companies to handle child-support collections. A majority of senators rejected his amendment.