Late Checks from State Bring Understanding from Banks, Utilities

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

August 16, 2001, Thursday, BC cycle

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 424 words

HEADLINE: Late checks from state bring understanding from banks, utilities

DATELINE: LITTLE ROCK


BODY:
Some banks and utilities say they will extend courtesies to people who ran out of money because of late paychecks or delayed child support checks from the state.

And, some workers are seeking money from the state to repay them for costs they've already had to bear. Seven state employees had, as of Wednesday, filed for compensation from the state Claims Commission, a panel that can authorize payment to compensate for problems caused by the state. The Claims Commission has approved three claims - for a total of $2,268 - to pay costs of state workers harmed by not being paid on time. The other four claims were pending.

Hundreds of state employees were late being paid or were given short checks after the first two payrolls under Arkansas' new accounting system. The state child support office switched last month to a new computer system for processing checks. The office blamed a delay in payments on the switch and on thousands of new cases generated by a federal law that requires all support payments deducted from payroll checks to be sent to the state.

Gov. Mike Huckabee asked that utilities keep victims of the mix-ups connected and that banks waive fees from bounced checks.

Single mothers due child support checks are getting extensions to pay their bills, said Carmie Henry, vice president of governmental affairs for the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives. The co-op serves 375,000 customers in the state. He said state workers will have to demonstrate their problems are related to late checks.

"If a state employee could show reason to us, something could or would be worked out," he said.

Entergy Arkansas, which serves 640,000 electric customers, will use its existing policies for working with customers that have lost income.

"We attempt to renegotiate the arrangements in any way that we can," Entergy spokesman James Thompson said.

Reliant Energy Arkla spokeswoman Margaret Preston said the natural gas utility, which serves 440,000 Arkansas customers, will work with customers to extend payments.

At Metropolitan National Bank, executive vice president Steve Wade said a number of customers have been hurt because some of their bills are automatically deducted from their accounts.

"What we have to be willing to do is to give the customer the benefit of the doubt. The tie is going to go the customer," he said.

Leslie Haber, state director of Service Employees International Union Local 100, said banks and utilities can save the state money in claims by showing some understanding.