When 26-year-old Regetter Burton got married, she had lots of dreams--to go to school, have children and raise her family with the support of a loving husband.
But what she has become--a single parent on welfare--was her worst nightmare.
For two years, Burton has raised her two daughters in a small apartment in South Los Angeles on $663 a month in welfare payments and $79 in food stamps.
Given Up on D.A.
Her estranged husband, who she said earns a decent living as a cook, has not paid child support and Burton said she has given up on getting help from the district attorney’s office, which is responsible for enforcing child support laws.
“I went to the child support office so many times and called them so many times, but they could never give me any help,” she said. “The workers would transfer me to one person and then another. I kept getting the run-around . . . so I just gave up.”
Thousands of women have had little success getting help from the district attorney’s office, according to a report released by the Los Angeles County Child Support Task Force, a coalition of groups that represent women, labor and the poor.
The report assailed Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner because three out of four women who seek his assistance in collecting child support never get help and only one in seven ever gets a penny of what is owed.
“I have friends in other states, and they send men to jail for not paying their child support,” Burton said. “Here, no one makes these guys take responsibility for their kids.”
At a press conference in Santa Monica, leaders of the task force called Reiner “grossly negligent” and pointed out that Los Angeles, which has almost 300,000 active child support cases, is markedly below state and national averages in almost every aspect of collection.
- Since 1983, the number of court orders issued to force a parent to pay child support has risen 64% nationally. In Los Angeles County, the number is down 18%.
- The number of delinquent parents located in 1987 increased 35% nationwide while the number here dropped 35%.
- The district attorney collects an average of $334 per non-welfare child through its actions, but the state average for district attorneys is more than twice that.
“We hold Reiner responsible for these dreadful statistics because they were created by his lack of leadership,” said Susan Speir, founder of Single Parents United N’ Kids and a member of the task force that based its findings on a six-month audit of the family support office.
Speir said some of the main problems with the district attorney’s family support office are that it is drastically understaffed and uses outdated computer and telephone systems.
State Officials’ Criticism
Reiner’s office has also come under fire from a state official for its performance in collecting child support payments.
Last week, state Legislative Budget Analyst Elizabeth G. Hill accused Los Angeles county officials of mishandling collection of child support payments. Hill said the state could have recouped more than $22 million in welfare payments to poor children if officials here had done even an average job in collecting support payments.
Reiner has not responded to requests for comment on the task force report, referring all queries to Curt Livesay, an assistant district attorney. Livesay said some of the criticism is warranted.
“It’s what we’ve known all along,” he said. “But the district attorney has demonstrated nothing but commitment to solving this problem.”
Livesay said Reiner has unsuccessfully lobbied the federal government for funds to purchase an updated computer system and to contract out family support services to professional bill collectors.
Attorney Gloria Allred said at the press conference in Santa Monica that Reiner’s privatization efforts are a “blatant attempt to avoid accountability for child support enforcement” and that no other county in this country uses private contractors to run their child support efforts.
Burton said, “I’m not looking for someone to blame. I want someone to help.”
Times staff writer Edwin Chen contributed to this article.