Louisiana debt collection agency brings in $92M over 3 years
By MELINDA DESLATTE
Jul. 20, 2017
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A debt collection office created by Louisiana lawmakers to go after delinquent accounts has drawn $92 million in payments since it began its work three years ago, the state's revenue secretary said Thursday.
That's about a 17 percent rate of collection of the nearly $528 million in back-owed debts that have been sent to the Office of Debt Recovery for collection since the 2014-15 budget year, according to data from Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson, who oversees the collection office.
"Our collections have grown significantly over the three years since we've been active," Robinson told the Cash Management Review Board, a state panel that has been tracking the work.
It's not clear if the Office of Debt Recovery is doing a better job collecting on unpaid bills than individual agencies had been doing before it was created. Robinson said she hoped to have better analysis within the year.
The office can revoke or suspend licenses, seize bank accounts and take tax refunds.
Rep. Chris Broadwater, sponsor of the legislation creating the recovery office, urged the revenue department to notify lawmakers if it runs into any problems. He said lawmakers didn't want to create a new level of bureaucracy that doesn't change the status quo.
"I do want to make sure that what we're doing works," Broadwater said.
Lawmakers struggling to fill budget gaps passed legislation setting up the office in 2013, saying Louisiana should have a more coordinated effort to collect money it is owed. It took several years during former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration to pull together the comprehensive system to target the delinquent accounts.
The largest collections, about $65 million, have been through seized bank accounts, Robinson said. Tax offsets have paid off another $28 million in back-owed debts, she said.
Robinson said blocking renewals or purchases of hunting and fishing licenses also tends to provoke a response from debtors.
State agencies are supposed to refer all their delinquent accounts to the attorney general's office or the debt recovery office for collection. The Office of Debt Recovery handles debts considered final with no further right of appeal.
Robinson said 98 agencies are turning over accounts to the office.
The largest unpaid debts owed to the state tend to be in the health, public safety and corrections departments, according to data previously provided to the Cash Management Review Board. Broadwater said tackling the unpaid debt quickly is critical.
"The longer it sits out there, the harder it is to collect," he said.
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