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County Studies Proposal to Hire Private Collectors of Child Support

May 22, 1987|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

A sweeping proposal to privately contract for the collection of child support payments, a move that could affect the jobs of more than 700 county employees, was announced Thursday by Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.

Reiner said a recent county task force study showed that hiring an outside collector, which must still receive final approval from the Board of Supervisors, could result in a $27-million increase each year in child support collections and could also reduce county costs by up to $3.7 million.

"This is the single largest reorganization in the county government ever," said Reiner, predicting that it would result in the most effective child support collection service in the nation.

The plan has won enthusiastic support from county Chief Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon, who termed it "probably the most exciting initiative in our proposed 1987-1988 budget."

"We are convinced it will probably provide for a higher level of service for the people it is designed to serve, " Dixon said. "It will also save the taxpayers a substantial amount of money."

Dixon said he expects the Board of Supervisors to support the proposal in its final budget. The board would then have to approve bids from private firms for the contract. Reiner said the new system could be in place next year.

Reiner and Dixon said the affected 725 employees--family support services representatives and clerical support staffers--would be transferred to other county jobs or given the right to first refusal of positions with the private firm that wins the contract.

But a spokesman for the union that currently represents the employees said Thursday that its members "are really concerned" about the proposal.

"We are planning on fighting contracting to the bitter end," said Abby Haight, a research associate for Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union. "We will fight them through the provisions of our contract dealing with layoffs and we will fight them by looking into any applicable laws concerning the privacy of the clients."

At this time, the district attorney's child support program helps collect about $95 million a year in child support payments involving more than 200,000 cases in which parents are violating court orders to support their children. An average of 5,900 new cases are opened each month in Los Angeles County.

If the county hires an outsider to handle the collections, state-of-the-art computer methods would be used to collect payments, Reiner said. The private collector would cooperate with the 55 deputy district attorneys who currently file and try criminal cases against delinquent parents who ignore enforcement of court-issued warrants.

Reiner also announced Thursday that he will institute a countywide plan during the next six months to improve services for bringing child support cases to court. Under a recent pilot project in West Covina, the district attorney's office was able to take cases to court in 20 days, compared to a countywide average of 70 days.

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