County dodges its share of $52 million fine

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Officials are crediting teamwork between San Benito and Santa
Cruz counties with helping them dodge part of a $52 million bullet
from the state.
Officials are crediting teamwork between San Benito and Santa Cruz counties with helping them dodge part of a $52 million bullet from the state.

Because the counties have formed a joint family support division, the state may not ask officials from both counties to help pay part of a $52 million federal fine.

The fine was levied against the state for its failure to implement a federally mandated program.

“I believe it is in recognition of not only the willingness of both counties to regionalize but also because of staff productivity by both counties,” San Benito County Administrative Officer Gil Solorio said.

Solorio said Gov. Gray Davis’ revised budget proposal did not include a request for both counties to pay part of the multi-million dollar fine he requested of other counties.

The $52 million is to help offset $98.5 million in federal penalties levied against California by the federal government.

“It is that share of the penalty that we may be exempted from due to our regionalization efforts,” Solorio said.

To save money and streamline child support efforts for both counties, San Benito and Santa Cruz officials agreed to create one regional child support office that oversees both counties.

“I think its working out very, very well. The local child support staff deserves a great deal of credit for the success of the regionalization process,” Solorio said.

Officials with the Santa Cruz-San Benito Regional Department of Child Support Services hope Davis’ recommendation will survive this summer’s budget battle in Sacramento or it could force a reduction in services.

“It will have a significant impact, and we are working on strategies to deal with this as best we can,” spokeswoman Lisa Todd said.

The problem began in 1998 when the federal government offered California, along with other states, to put into place a statewide child support computer system.

The state, however, failed to meet the deadline because when the state’s purchasing agent bought computers for each of the child support service agencies, they were not compatible with the software the program was supposed to run.

The state missed the federal deadline and was penalized in installments.

“Although the penalty installment is owed to the federal government, the state has thus far withheld funding for payment due to ongoing fiscal budget problems,” Solorio said. “A failure to pay the penalties will trigger an immediate $98.5 million reduction in federal grant dollars allocated to the state Department of Child Support Services.

“If the reduction occurs, the state Department of Child Support Services will have no choice but to reduce monthly allocations to the local Department of Child Support Services.”

Under such a scenario, the local child support services would be forced to turn to the Board of Supervisors for short-term assistance in order to maintain current levels of public service, officials said.

In an effort to prevent a loss of child support revenue, supervisors adopted a resolution and sent a letter supporting Senate Bill 1070, which will allocate $98.5 million for payment of the penalty installment.

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