March 14, 2013

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In Hamilton County, thousands of parents pay child support, a financial obligation they willingly meet. Doing so is also both state and federal law. But what many in Chattanooga don’t know is that Hamilton County does not have complete control over its child support enforcement program. Instead, a private corporation by the name of Maximus is in charge and their performance has some Chattanooga parents angry, confused and looking to their county and state government for answers. But in this age of privatization, answers are hard to come by.

Nearly 25,000 Hamilton County children are dependent on the child support enforcement program run by Maximus. A child support program’s mission is simple enough, but difficult to execute: it requires the non-custodial parent, who are mostly men, pay the custodial parent until their child is 18. This task is made more challenging by a slumped economy; out of the 25,000 cases, just over 50 percent of non-custodial parents pay on consistent basis.

Nonetheless, the financial stakes are high for Maximus, as huge sums of money are being exchanged—not just the state funding needed to run the program, but the huge sum that is regularly paid between non-custodial parents and custodial parents.

Indeed, Maximus and the State of Tennessee offer the custodial parent the option of receiving the non-custodial’s payment through a pre-paid Visa card. And just like any bank card, Visa charges fees such as overdraft penalties and ATM charges.

These fees take away money that’s meant for their children, say parents. Which makes more and more Chattanooga parents ask: Should a private corporation, whose ultimate goal is to make money, be responsible for a social service task so critical to the well-being of the community? Shouldn’t a community’s children come first, instead of the bottom line?

“When you have a private company coming in and taking over, it becomes a business,” said Michelle Baker, a single parent from Chattanooga who has inspired an online uprising against Maximus of other parents from Hamilton County and across Tennessee. “It is no longer a public service that assists the public,” she said. “They’re going to be more concerned about making money and trading their stocks. They’re more concerned about the almighty dollar. They’ve turned [child support] into a money-making industry.”

Baker has been penning a blog about Maximus for several years now titled and the blog’s banner headline best sums up what it’s all about: “Tennessee Child Support Enforcement is a Joke.”

Baker told The Pulse that since she started the blog in 2009, her rants and investigations have logged more than 30,000 views. She said hundreds of parents have left posts and their disdain for Maximus is seething through their words. This anger is backed up by the state, as Tennessee’s Department of Human Services has logged 894 complaints against Maximus from July 2009 to September 2012. Out of the 894 complaints, 88 came from Hamilton County.

Maximus is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (MMS), so making as much money as possible for themselves and their stockholders is certainly a priority. Maximus is based in Virginia and the company’s mantra is “Helping Government Serve the People.” It has offices all over the world, employing more than 7,500 people, with reported revenues of more than $1 billion in 2012. But Maximus told The Pulse making money is not it’s top priority.

“The family-centered approach we take reflects the financial realities that custodial and non-custodial parents face in a community where economic recovery and employment lags behind the national average,” said Sally Anderson, an outsourced Maximus spokesperson who works for Nashville-based Hall Strategies.


March 14, 2013

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Just a few comments to clear the air regarding the nonsense Lasker was getting from Sally Anderson, an outsourced "Maximus spokesperson", ... whatever that is.

Maximus does in fact use unskilled temporary workers from Randstad. The turnover rate in Shelby County is extremely high and a worker is rarely on board long enough to really master the job responsibilities.

Maximus was to "staff up" to approximately 200 staff in Memphis. The highest headcount was about 170 inearly 2010. They were losing money hand over fist at that staffing level and are now down to around 100.

There are about 20 Maximus staff in Memphis, the remainder are Randstad temporaries. In fact, excepting the 13 staff attorneys at the Shelby location, the entire Maximus staff has turned over, excepting one operations manager. One of the casualties was the Project Director in Shelby County who is now the Assistant Human Services Commissioner in charge of child support enforcement. He left a $147K job with Maximus for a $108K job with Tennessee. He's lucky he got that as he was cut loose. As I said, there is but one Maximus staff left in place from when the contract began.

In case you're wondering, I know theis stuff because I worked there for a while as Maximus staff. ... Worst job, by far, I ever had.

They are unable to perform adequately at that staffing level and have been unable to meet the contract's performance standards from day 1 of the contract.

Despite what Ms. Anderson mumbled about the Shelby County contract being "turned over" to Maximus. There was a competitive bid on that contract wit 4 bidders, including the vendor who currently held the contract. Maximus won the bid.

It is my understanding that there are currently 5 - 6 full time State employees stationed at the Shelby County offices because Maximus is doindg such a lousy job.

I believe the fact that Maximus would not respond to any of your questions regarding staffing is answer enough.

Maximus bids many of their contracts too low and cannot adequately staff them to meet performance standards.

The contracts are public information, as well as the monthly performance standard reports produced by the State. You can look for yourself at the contract situations in Tennessee and will scratch your heads as to why Maximus is still on the Shelby contract.

Personally, I would believe nothing Anderson says after vetting some of her inaccurate comments to you.

I'm late to the party, ... but better late than never to set the record straight.

Lazarus Jones 301 days ago

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