The Pike County Attorney’s Office and the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services are trading barbs over child support office reimbursement payments, with each accusing the other of incompetence and playing politics.
Pike County Attorney Howard Keith Hall told the News-Express last week that he was considering closing the child support division of his office due to a lack of reimbursement by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Department of Income Support for expenses associated with operating the child support office. Hall said the cabinet was in arrears for two months of payments, totaling approximately $120,000. The reimbursements are guaranteed through a contract between the Pike County Attorney’s Office and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
“They got slower and slower on making their repayments to us and pickier and pickier and this administration has gotten pickier and pickier,” Hall said. “I don’t think it’s party politics, I just think it’s who they put in there. They just happen to be in a particular party. I think it’s mere coincidental, too, that it’s an election time. I don’t think anybody’s monkeying with us.”
Hall said if he does not receive payment, he will be forced to consider either closing the office within the next week or closing the office at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2020. Hall said if the office closes, he will be forced to furlough eight employees.
Hall said he does not believe politics are a factor in the situation. He said, however, that he believes “incompetence” is.
“I don’t think this is Democrat-Republican politics,” Hall said. “The reason I think that way is because the Republican counties are just as mad at having to deal with this same thing.”
Tammy Branham, the supervisor of the Child Support Division of the Pike County Attorney’s Office, said the money reimbursed to the office is earmarked for expenses related to the operation of the office, including payroll, office supplies, rent, legal expenses and other administrative costs.
“We couldn’t buy lunch with the money, for example,” Branham said.
Branham, a 35-year employee of the office, said she has never seen the state take so long to reimburse the child support office for its work. She said there have been times in the past when mistakes would have to be corrected or issues would have to be addressed, but efforts were made to address those delays in a timely manner. Now, she said, “you’re lucky to get ahold of anyone” when a problem arises which could delay reimbursement.
She also said there are varying reasons that invoices submitted to the income support department are either returned or questioned.
“Every day, it’s a different reason,” she said.
Hall said he believes the state is attempting to “starve us out” and force county attorneys across Kentucky to close their child support divisions in order for that service to be brought under control of a state agency.
“It boils down to a difference of opinion in how government works,” he said.
Bryan Hubbard, the commissioner for the Department of Income Support, said, however, that Hall has “manufactured a crisis” in an attempt for political gain and has consistently operated his office in an incompetent manner.
“He has manufactured a financial crisis for his own office, as a result of either incompetence or dishonesty,” Hubbard told the News-Express in a phone interview Monday. “He has attempted to accuse us of denying his office funds to operate when all we’re asking him to do is to submit an accurate invoice on time.”
Hubbard told the News-Express that the reason the income support department has not paid Hall’s office for two recently submitted invoices is because invoices have been consistently submitted by Hall’s office late and without proper documentation. Hubbard said his office has requested documentation including timesheets from Hall’s office, has not received that documentation.
Hubbard said in several instances, Hall has failed to meet the deadline for submitting invoices as spelled out in the contract between the cabinet and Hall’s office, even being nearly two months late in submitting his August invoice. Hall told the News-Express the invoices not yet paid by the cabinet are for August and September of this year.
Hubbard also said the cabinet would have been justified through the terms of the contract is rejecting Hall’s June invoice, which, he said, was submitted 15 days late. Hubbard said the cabinet elected to go forward with paying that invoice.
Hubbard also hit Hall on child support collection rates. According to figures provided by Hubbard, Pike ranked 103rd in the state in child support collections in the 2018-19 fiscal year and has not ranked above 101st over the past four fiscal years. Hubbard said Hall has consistently been either the highest paid or the second-highest paid county attorney in Kentucky in each of those years.
Hubbard said Hall was contacted in 2018 to inform him of the need to improve Pike County’s child support collections, but the cabinet received no response. Hubbard said Hall was summoned to Frankfort for a meeting with the cabinet in February and he committed to improving. He said Hall’s office was recognized in August for making a “marginal improvement” in child support collections. He said, however, that Hall’s consistently late invoice submittals, coupled with his low rate of collection and high rate of pay is concerning.
Hubbard said the cabinet will consider conducting a forensic audit of Hall’s child support division if drastic improvement isn’t made.
“The people of Kentucky have paid Keith Hall a whole lot for not much for too long, and what he’s not used to is accountability, and he’s going to get the full measure of it in this situation,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard also accused Hall of attempting to influence the governor’s race by making a “dishonest and opportunistic” attempt at painting the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin as “callous” for allegedly not supporting Hall’s child support division per the terms of Hall’s and the cabinet’s contract.
“To the extent he’s picked a public fight with the cabinet, then we aim to fight to win it,” Hubbard said.
In statements issued to the News-Express on Monday, Hall questioned many of Hubbard’s statements, including his allegation that Hall is attempting to influence the governor’s race. He questioned how Hubbard could know who he supports in the race.
Hall also said he has experienced staff submitting invoices for reimbursement.
“I have a CPA to handle the accounting and I’ve collected child support for over 30 years,” Hall said. “I’m trying to submit September invoices but they won’t support August.”
Hall said he has had a great working relationship with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for 30 years, including his 23 years as county attorney and assistant county attorney. He said Monday afternoon that he and Hubbard “have ironed out the issues that were holding up funding” for the child support division of Hall’s office. He added that the child support division will remain open and “child support services for the children of Pike County will not be (interrupted).”