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Living Today The Salina Journal Sunday, November 29,1981 - The Salina Journal Page 13 Daddy doesn't live here anymore. He won't pay child support. His family depends on SRS assistance. But after that is gone Who will support the children? Her dark brown eyes flicker with a joy she hasn't felt for a long time. Boxes containing her possessions fill the living room of the mobile home. One of her sons begs for some ice cream. The other lies contentedly upon a blanket on the floor. The Siamese cat amuses itself by batting a telephone cord. A friend carries the boxes into a van. She chats happily about a dream coining true. She has always wanted to live in the mountains. Then a sadness flushes her freckled face. Tears burn her eyes. Part of the dream will not come true, a part that incessantly taunts her. She wishes the fighting were over and the guilt would diminish. It's a fight about what sh« needs to rmiie her children — • tether and money. It's about depending on Social and Rehabilitation Services for financial assistance; red tape, changes in funding. Her battle will continue. But the tactics are difficult to predict. She prefers to remain anonymous, so she will be referred to as "Jenny." In mid-September, the Saline County Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) notified Jenny and 204 other women in the Salina area that they no longer qualified for support from Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) funds after Nov. 1. There had been a total of 1,000 receiving ADC in this eight-county area. : About 21.5 percent of the ADC cases in Kansas have been closed, according to Marlys Mattingly, chief of income maintenance at the Saline County SRS office. "The main thing that cut them off is that they exceeded the 150 percent income limit," she said. She explained that the SRS compares gross Income to basic needs. If the needs are $300 a month for a family of three, for example, and the single mother makes $450 monthly, then the mother no longer is eligible. ADC will no longer include child care assistance for the remainder of this year. Mothers still on ADC at the beginning of next year may be reimbursed for some child care costs. Lack of funds is the reason for the cutback. Stories by Diane Johnson "I know they (the SRS) did it because of a reason," Jenny said in a rational tone. Yet she wonders what others have done since the cutback. Before leaving Salina, Jenny said she earned $560 a month from her job. Child care for her two children cost $280 a month, which ADC had paid. After the cutoff, she was able to receive reimbursement for most child care costs from SRS Service Day Care Funds. Without those funds, however, Jenny said she would have been better off by not working and receiving $400 a month on unemployment. Service Day Care, formerly called income eligible funds, uses Title XX money. Betty Coburn, service worker at the Saline County SRS, explained the funds are used for child care when families aren't eligible for cash benefits. "It takes over where ADC leaves off on child care," she said. Coburn said she hopes the funds will last until the end of the fiscal year — next July. But she has to keep constant watch over the budget to make sure she isn't overspending. Fighting for support Another factor in Jenny's predicament has been obtaining child support from her children's father. She said his support payments are inconsistent. Because paternity hasn't been established for her youngest child, he only pays support for one. They were never married. At first, Jenny said, when he found out she could get assistance from ADC, he quit his Job. "He makes $8 an hour now and doesn't pay more than $150 a month," she said. Jenny said the children's father had paid child support regularly in recent months, until he found out she was leaving town. But because she no longer qualifies for ADC, the payments now are more crucial. So she intends to file contempt charges. Lawyer fees will come from her own pocket. "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm not going to let him get away with it. Not that I want revenge, I Just want to keep his mind on the right track. His plans were to come home and quit his Job. He didn't ever help with bills around here. I was Just disgusted." She covered her face with her hands. Terri is another mother who lost ADC assistance. The mother of two lives in Dickinson County. She has been battling for child support from her ex-husband since August 1980. Both she and her ex-husband are college graduates. Her face reflects quiet weariness. Working to provide her family with basic needs has taken its toll. "There are times when it seems really overwhelming. At times, I feel guilty for bringing two children into the world and not being able to give them the things that they need," said Terri (not her real name). She knew where her ex-husband was living, and went to SRS for help in trying to make him pay child support. She said he began paying support in September — $150 a month. Now, the ADC case is closed. "I felt it was coming. I couldn't understand how they could expect people to survive. The only thing that saved me was the funding out of income eligibility (now called Service Day Care). There's no way I could afford to pay $250 a month for child care." Terri said she was receiving $200 a month in supplemental income, payments for child care and a medical card for her children through ADC before Nov. 1. She now gets all but $13 of her child care paid and is receiving $92 worth of food stamps monthly. But she has no health care for her children. She has house payments and transportation fees, and her wages are being garnished by Master Charge. The latter is her ex-husband's bill, she said. Far behind By late August her ex-husband was $3,500 behind in child support payments, Terri said. And he owes SRS for all that has been paid to Terri by ADC. This may start a vicious circle, according to SRS's Mattingly, because some fathers may pay SRS debts instead of their support obligations. Terri earlier had hired a lawyer to file contempt charges on her ex-husband for non-payment because she didn't believe SRS was making any progress. "The cost is $150 to go to court for contempt, but the lawyer said it takes $150 to $200 for each of the four or five times in court to convince the judge you need it (support)," she said. The costs might have totaled $1,000 before she could get action taken on the case, Terri said. So she decided not to seek legal action. Now that she no longer is on ADC, Terri is attempting to have her ex-husband's wages garnished. She said he makes about $3 an hour, and she can only garnish from one pay period monthly. "He told me he'd never bold a Job that made enough to pay a lot of child support His slogan is, The more I mate, the more yon take,'" •he said. "Once they make up their minds to be totally irresponsible, there's not much you can do." Neither Terri nor Jenny are content to rely on outside assistance to raise their families. Illustration by Tom Dorsey "One of the really draining things about it is the criticism you get from others," Terri said. "You don't plan your life this way, but what can you do? "I was 27 before I got married. I felt comfortable and confident in my decision. And it's hard to handle when all you get is criticism from people about what you did wrong. And he's off scot-free." Sometimes even compliments are difficult to accept. Jenny said, "I'm tired of people telling me I'm doing a good job and that I'm strong. This seems like it takes up my whole life. I don't know what I would have done without the SRS, but I'd like to live without it. I know what it's associated with. "All I want is a normal family life in a good situation. I want to have time to relax and let the kids do more outside of home. I'm tired of doing what I have to do. I want to do what I want to do." Catching up with runaway parents The lyrics of a familiar song seem fitting. "You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, four hungry children and a crop in the field..." In most cases, however, Lucille receives custody of the children after the divorce settlement. And if Lucille's ex-husband doesn't comply with the court order of child support, she seeks assistance from Social and Rehabilitation Services. A common problem in these situations Is locating the fattier, or in some cases the mother, who refuses to pay nMM SUPPOrt* SRS's job then is to track down runaway parents. That can be a lengthy endeavor if little information is available. But SRS has access to most records in the United States, including those from agencies such as the Social Security Adminstration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Defense. Deb Hoffman, SRS child support assistant I, said that if information is available on the absent parent's location and place of employment, making contact is relatively easy. For a $20 application fee, SRS locates runaway fathers and mothers for families not receiving Aid to Dependent Children. There is no charge for ADC families. If the family is receiving ADC, the next step by SRS is to convince the absent parent to start paying child support. That often involves court action. Sometimes, SRS is unsuccessful. But when child support is started, it isn't Just families like Lucille and her four hungry children who benefit. The taxpayers' dollars also are saved. SRS records snow progress is being made. In fiscal year 1961 in the eight-county ana which includes Salina, SRS collected HH.114.W from absent parents of ADC families, according to Deaato Hoffman, child support specialist n at the Saflne County SRS office. SRS collected an average of about S7 percent of the ADC core (high priority) case loads to this area, and 17 percent of the total case load during fiscal 1IH. More than 15 million was collected statewide from ADC cases during the year, Hoffman said. That compares with $3.5 million collected in 0»c«l yw 19«. SRS concentrates on obtaining child support in those ADC cases which rank in the top three categories of a priority list, Hoffman said. Cases are divided into six categories. Top priority goes to cases in which information is known about the location of the absent parent and his or her employer, a court order for child support exists, and the children's paternity is established. In cases given second priority, no court order exists for child support. Third in priority are cases in which a court order for support exists and paternity is established, but the location isn't known. Information is available to initiate the locating process. Collecting in the last three categories is most difficult, according to SRS officials. There is no existing court or der for support. In cases given fourth priority, no location is known but paternity is established and the family is trying to obtain information. In fifth priority, location is known but paternity isn't established. Cases lowest on the scale are those in which location tart kaown and paternity isn't established. In reality,' there has been no priority since April on cases in which paternity isn't established because SRS ran out of funds to provide blood tests, according to Matt Mattingly, who worked as a child support assistant I until earlier this month. Blood tests for one case cost $400. The testing is highly accurate. Rex Lorson, Saline County Attorney, explains the problem in dealing with paternity suits without a blood test. "If someone contests it (paternity), we have to roll over and die," he said. His office is contracted by the SRS for legal matters in obtaining child support payments for Saline County ADC cases. In fiscal year 1981, $113,109.54 was collected by the county attorney's office, Hoffman said. Fifteen percent of that amount goes to the county. Connie Kvacik, child support maintenance worker at the county attorney's office, works 40 hours a week on nothing but these cases which usually total between 700 and 800. "I'm never caught up," she says. Lorson said there are numerous stumbling blocks. For example, if an absent parent keeps changing location, isn't employed or receives cash payments from a job, obtaining child support may be difficult or even impossible. The county attorney also files actions against runaway parents for return of money ADC has paid to the family, even if the family no longer is on ADC. "If there's a way to recoup this money that's going out on ADC, we certainly want to take advantage of it," Lorson said.