“In addition to supporting custodial parents to obtain the child support ordered, Maximus focuses on addressing barriers that non-custodial parents face in paying their obligations,” Anderson said. “This child-centric approach has been shown to lead to longer-term consistent child support payments as well as creating less divisiveness between the child’s parents.”
The contract to run a child support enforcement program in Tennessee is awarded by the state’s Department of Human Services or DHS. In some cases, DHS has fired a county’s entire child support office for poor performance and turned the program over to Maximus; this happened in Memphis’ Shelby County in 2009. But in the case of Hamilton County, the county voluntarily handed the program over to Maximus in 2000.
One county employee who is familiar with why Hamilton County made the move to privatize its child support enforcement program said the decision was mostly based on what some refer to as the “new normal” regarding nuclear families.
“The number of children born out of wedlock is growing,” said the county employee, who wished to remain anonymous. “It became overwhelming [the county making non-custodial parents pay child support to custodial parents]. We decided to give it up because Maximus could do it better and more efficiently. The county also opted out because we would be able to throw more resources at the judicial side of things.”
Chattanooga single parent Baker believes Maximus is too dependent on temporary employees to do such essential work for Hamilton and other Tennessee counties. The complaints she has heard largely focus on the inexperience of the temporary workers.
Baker said the government employees who were fired by Maximus were seasoned and experienced, and most seemed to genuinely care about their work and service to the community. The government employees performed at a higher level because they were paid better and received benefits, she said.
The Pulse tried to verify Baker’s claims about Maximus’ use of temporary workers in Hamilton County and their pay, but the State of Tennessee, Hamilton County government and Maximus refused to speak about this.
The Pulse also asked Maximus if it was making a profit for its work in Hamilton County. Lisa Miles, a spokesperson for Maximus’s investor relations, said, “We are unable to disclose financial information by project.”
What can’t be hidden is Maximus’ record outside the state of Tennessee. In 2000, Maximus lost its child support contract with El Paso County in Colorado Springs, Colo., after its district attorney’s office fielded 3,000 complaints over three years. Florida also fired Maximus and another contractor when both companies collected 3 cents for every $25 of taxpayer’s money, according to the Sarasota (Fla.) Harold-Tribune.
Locally, the anger against Maximus rose to a crescendo last December when State Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) hosted a fact-finding forum about the corporation at the Kingdom Center. Favors recently told The Pulse that she’s “heard so many complaints” about Maximus that she said she’s making the issue of child support enforcement one of her top priorities.
“Three hundred people attended the forum and I had prepared for 50,” Favors said, who added that some of the stories told during the forum were “heart wrenching”.
Favors said she never knew child support enforcement was “this complex.” She said she now believes the child support enforcement system in Hamilton County and other Tennessee counties sets the non-custodial parent “up for failure.”
“You can go to jail for 10 days for each payment you are behind,” Favors said. “When you are working a low-wage job, you’re not going to catch up. Some non-custodial parents were told to pay $1,200 a month when they’re making $800 a month. You just can’t do it.”