Deadbeat dads aren’t really a sympathetic group. It’s hard to feel bad for parents who don’t take care of their kids. Especially if you’ve been the one missing the child support checks and tucking your little one in alone every night, the specter of those lost parents probably doesn’t give you much grief.
And yet, there’s a new government policy that might make even though the most hardened of hearts feel sorry for parents behind on their support payments.
Beginning in March, the US Treasury Department will start to pay benefits electronically. Yay, less paper checks and more efficiency. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Well here’s the issue for deadbeat dads who owe thousands in back support but are living off government programs. (Sounds like a small group, but it’s estimated that we’re talking about 275,000 people.) When a person owes child support, the State has the right to freeze that person’s bank account and take all the money deposited into it to pay back the debt. This situation is different from other debts where a collector can only garnish a third of a person’s wage or income.
Prior to the government’s paperless program, those with back support could receive a check in the mail, cash it at a grocery store and then only pay a portion of that check back to the state for their past-due support. As long as the debtors were paying a minimum amount every month, they’re government checks for things like Social Security or Disability would continue to come.
Beginning in March, these people won’t be able to collect any income at all. The check will will go directly into their frozen account and pay towards their child support, leaving them with nothing. Many of these parents rely on government assistance as their only means of income. Essentially, these people will be left destitute.
Now once again, it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is living off the government and refusing to pay to help their children. I mean, these are extremely unsympathetic subjects here. And at the same time, we’re talking about human beings who will have nothing.
To further complicate matters, the Associated Press reports that many of these child support payments won’t actually be making their way to mothers and children. For the group of people effected by this change, their children are often fully grown and well beyond support payments. However, if a single mother has to claim welfare because her child’s father isn’t contributing, the cost of that assistance can be billed to the deadbeat dad.
Example time, because I find these situations so tricky. If a young single woman got pregnant without insurance and the father of her child wasn’t helping, she could apply for Medicaid. The State would cover the costs of her pregnancy and delivery. However, once the baby was born, the State would bill the father of the child for a portion of the costs. If he didn’t repay the State, they could freeze his bank accounts, creating the situation we’re talking about. In this way, the man could be losing all of his income to pay back a debt that wouldn’t go to his actual family.
Even some government officials are worried about the possible consequences of this move on parents who owe support. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Ken Wolfe says, “Child support enforcement – getting that money and passing it on to parents and children – is a measure to fight poverty, and it doesn’t make sense to accomplish that by impoverishing somebody else.”
This move to electronic transfers is expected to save the US Government $1 billion over the next ten years. It’s hard to imagine that they’ll forgo this modernization to protect a small group of people who owe debt to the government and to their families. But it’s possible that this will change the way that states collect and dispense child support payments, which is a conversation that could surely get a lot of attention.
What do you think? Should the government worry about these dads who thousands of dollars to their children? Should we feel sympathy for these often apathetic individuals? Share your thoughts in the comments.