COLUMBIA, S.C. — For decades, applying for child support in South Carolina had to be done using a paper application. Now, the S.C. Department of Social Services (DSS) has launched an online child support application process.
"You're either having to take time off of work as a custodial parent to apply or find postage, send it through the mail and hope it gets there in time, and then you have to wait for people to open the mail and go through it," said Andrew Coston, data and quality manager for the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition.
The Midlands Fatherhood Coalition has been helping fathers navigate the child support system for many years. Coston said he's seen firsthand how many barriers there are for child support.
“Historically, the biggest problems have been the systems themselves,” said Coston.
Now, applying for child support can be done with the click of a button. DSS is using a new online portal to streamline child support services. According to DSS, nearly one thousand applications have come through since the portal's launch.
"One thing we’re trying to do is eliminate any barriers to someone that may say 'I can’t access an application, I can’t get into an office to talk to someone,'" said DSS spokesperson Connelly-Anne Ragley.
One father, who paid child support for many years and wanted to remain anonymous, said the technology is long overdue.
"This system should have been in place years ago," he said, "instead of always having to call and wait on hold, sometimes 15-20 minutes up to an hour. That would have been made, that would have been better."
Coston said the new system will hopefully speed up support for custodial parents and their children.
"This really eliminates four or five steps. The quicker we can get through the process, the better," said Coston.
South Carolina is still playing catch up on child support. Accountability reports from DSS state that federal penalties ended in 2019 with the introduction of the Palmetto Automated Child Support System.
Before that, the federal government fined South Carolina more than a total $170 million for not meeting requirements for an online system. Back in 1988, a federal law passed that required an automated support enforcement system. South Carolina was the last state in the U.S. to implement a system like this.
News 19 reached out to DSS for data on how much money in child support is currently owed or how many parents are behind on paying their child support, however, according DSS, the agency does not track that data.
In 2020, the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition said participants paid $174,000 in child support, which saved nearly $400,000 in incarceration costs.