The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

January 22, 2013

Detox, child welfare costs up for Blue Earth County

MANKATO — Counties across Minnesota are required to collect child support, detoxify the drunk and place children in foster homes, among other responsibilities.

But each county does it a bit differently.

Take the child support office, the 2012 performance of which the Blue Earth County Board discussed Tuesday.

The county does better than average in establishing fatherhood and in being cost-effective: The county collects just under $6 in child support for every $1 it spends, compares to about $4.50 for the statewide average.

But it’s below average for the percentage of court-ordered child support is actually paid. The county collects about 67 percent of its child support, compared to 71 percent for the state average.

Human Services Director Phil Claussen said the county is considering changing its child support strategy a bit by levying child support based on the person’s ability to pay.

“There can be a deterrent to having an order be issued and having it be an unrealistic amount and people don’t pay at all,” he said.

But, as in this case, it isn’t always the county’s goal to beat the average. The statistics might look better, in other words, by drastically reducing the amount of child-support orders in order to collect a higher percentage of it.

That, however, isn’t the goal — helping children is the goal — but the example shows how statistics could help the department collect more money.

Commissioners also had some questions about how the county collects child support.

“What do we do to people who don’t pay?” Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg asked.

He was told the county can garnish wages and tax returns, but doesn’t do much criminal prosecution.

County Attorney Ross Arneson said civil penalties are typically more effective.

“If that’s not successful, then throwing them in jail doesn’t do you much good,” he said. He said there are some exceptions, as when someone is self-employed.

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