LOWELL -- An upgrade in the state's child-support management system led to bank overdraft and other fees for recipients who were unaware their deposits were delayed.
Kerry Akashian, a Lowell native now living in Boston, said she normally receives child-support payments from her ex-husband twice a month. She said she didn't notice until Monday that the payment that should have deposited Saturday hadn't come in.
In the meantime, Akashian said she incurred $175 in overdraft fees because of the late deposit. She said she called the state Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division Monday and Tuesday but couldn't get through.
Akashian said she hadn't received any notification about a possible delay. Had she known, she said she would have accounted for being short on funds.
"I normally have enough to tide me over until I get the child support funds deposited, but because of Christmas, I was just really behind," Akashian said.
Worried about how much longer she might have to wait, she reached out to several state representatives in the Greater Boston and Greater Lowell areas.
Dracut state Rep. Colleen Garry said child-support recipients should have received ample notice of the changes and to expect delays. She said state legislators only received notice of the change that might affect their constituents at the end of the business day on Dec. 29, when the system transition was initiated.
"Being a practicing family attorney, I know how many people have to use this system," Garry said. "I know for some of my clients, they live check to check, and not to be warned, not to be able to plan, is just wrong."
She said the customers should be reimbursed for the cost of the delay.
The DOR said late Wednesday afternoon that CSE has updated child-support customers during the transition through direct mail, web and phone messaging. The new COMETS HD system was supposed to go live last Friday.
"Due to last week's severe winter storm, the launch of the commonwealth's new online child support case management system was delayed by one business day," DOR spokesperson Nathalie Dailida said in an emailed statement. "Payments are current, and the Department of Revenue anticipates payments will be processed on time moving forward. The department has continued to communicate with customers throughout this process, and apologizes for any inconvenience this brief delay may have caused."
Garry said she's not satisfied with the DOR's response to her concerns about the delay and recipients' reliance on the funds. She said mailing out a newsletter in the fall with the notice buried in a childish font and expecting busy people to search the CSE website or wait to hear it over the phone when they call with a problem are not adequate means of notification.
"I just think it could have been much more clear-cut," Garry said. "It should have been sent by email to each and every recipient."
Amanda Royse, of Methuen, said she didn't receive advance notice, either. She said she normally receives child-support payments every Wednesday or Thursday. When it hadn't shown up Thursday, Royse said she searched the CSE website and saw a post alerting recipients to the upgrade and delay. On Saturday, another post said payments would be made Monday, but the deposit didn't come then, either.
It was too late then to cancel a bill she had on an automatic pay schedule. Because she didn't have enough money in her account to cover it, Royse said she incurred fees from both the company and her credit union.
"I'm down $55 from their upgrade," she said. "If I had known ahead of time, I would have planned accordingly."
"I wish I didn't rely so much and was able to be better prepared for things like this," Royse added. "It's just, unfortunately, not the case for me just yet."
Akashian and Royse said they finally received their late payments Wednesday morning.
Akashian said she'd love to get the $175 she lost back, but she's not sure it will be possible. She said she hopes to bring attention to issues like these that women disproportionately face.
Before Akashian moved to Boston in 2014, she was a teacher at Lowell High School and ran its Public Service & Civic Engagement Academy. In recent years, she said she also served as a legislative aide to Lowell state Rep. Dave Nangle and worked for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"These systems need people who are actually experiencing this stuff and who know the policy to help create solutions, and help us feel empowered to do this," Akashian said.
DOR said it will review fees caused by the delay on a case-by-case basis. Customers with questions can call 617-626-4190 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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