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Miss. workers protest child support privatization

Laura Tillman, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi union members and state workers gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to protest legislative efforts to privatize the state's child support collections program.

House Bill 1009 and Senate Bill 2734 would allow the Mississippi Department of Human Services to contract with private vendors to collect overdue child support payments. Legislators say that uncollected total is about $1 billion.

Mississippi Alliance of State Employees President Brenda Scott said the bills would likely cause state workers to lose their jobs. She said that if the state were to provide adequate staffing to the program, workers could improve child support collection.

Mississippi used a Virginia-based company, Maximus Inc., to collect child support in Hinds and Warren counties in the 1990s. That company ultimately collected less money per case.

Scott also cautioned that private vendors would ultimately go after cases of overdue child support that are most lucrative, leaving low-income families underrepresented. She said that state workers are compelled to represent all Mississippians, and therefore aren't motivated by the profitability of the individual cases.

"When did public workers become a liability to the state instead of an asset to the state?" Scott asked.

Scott wore a black veil as she spoke Tuesday, which she said symbolizes her state of mourning over a number of bills passing through the statehouse that will negatively impact state workers.

One of House Bill 1009's authors, Rep. Chris Brown, R-Aberdeen, was speaking with other legislators in the Capitol while the press conference was going on, but was unaware that his bill was being protested. Brown said he was persuaded to support the bill by the sheer amount of child support uncollected.

"One billion dollars is pretty shocking to me," Brown said.

The House and Senate have passed separate bills that would allow the Department of Human Services to hire private companies to collect overdue child support. The two chambers must agree on a single bill before anything can be sent to the governor.