State Agency Identifies Deadbeat Parents

The Mississippi Department of Human Services released a "Ten Most Wanted'' list on Tuesday of parents it says owe thousands of dollars in child support.

MDHS will place posters that feature photographs and information on the 10 deadbeat parents, all men, in the state's post offices, county MDHS offices and on the Internet. Alsee McDaniel, director of the department's Division of Child Support Enforcement, said the agency's most wanted campaign was being revived in hopes of locating parents who have ignored child support responsibilities.

Since 1999, MDHS has located at least 12 parents who owed support money, McDaniel said. MDHS had discontinued the program last summer.

MDHS officials said some 320,000 Mississippi parents owe child support totaling more than $650 million. Officials said more than 90 percent of those parents are male. McDaniel said the staffing situation at MDHS has made collection difficult.

In fiscal 2003 the child support division lost 72 positions to funding cuts. In addition, there are 36 vacancies, meaning the division has 108 fewer workers than last year, he said.

"Being fully staffed certainly makes our efforts much more productive,'' McDaniel said. "More staff is needed and necessary for us to collect that $650 million that is due to children and Mississippi families.''

Once the deadbeat parents are located, MDHS will use tools like withholding income or suspending a drivers license in order to collect the support payments, McDaniel said.

One name on the new top 10 list is that of Ricky Swearengin, a truck driver whose last known location was in Indiana. Agency officials said Swearengin owes more than $79,000 in back child support payments.

The top 10 list isn't necessarily comprised of the parents who owe the most money, McDaniel said. In order to make the list, the custodial parent had to give permission, provide a photograph of the nonpaying parent, and the parent had to owe more than $10,000. Some parents in Mississippi owe more than $100,000, McDaniel said, although the men on the new posters owe from $14,000 to $79,000.

MDHS recently announced a new program to collect child support. The program allows law students at Mississippi College to handle child support cases as MDHS interns.

Janice Broome Brooks, director of MDHS, praised her department in August for increasing child support collections from $178.3 million in fiscal year 2001 to $191.4 million in 2002.