By: Kenya N. Rahmaan
That is the expected response from any person with the responsibility to provide for not only themselves but for others, especially for their children. While the angst increases over the government employees who may be unable to pay their monthly bills, non-custodial parents continue to be ignored when child support garnishments leave them literally in the same predicament every week, month, and year. That truth is that after child support is deducted, for either current support for child support debt (arrears), many parents are not left with enough money to pay for their own basic needs let alone the needs of another household. Federal and civilian employees are not the only people affected by non-pay status or garnishments leaving people without money to pay bills.
Our veterans are not immune to the lack of money or child support issues. According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) (2011), homeless veterans report that child support concerns are among their most difficult issues. People should be alarmed by everyone affected by being broke after they have worked, not just during a government shutdown. This work includes serving our country, becoming disabled in the process, and depending on a compensation check to survive once released from the military. Millions of people suffer from not receiving their pay, not just those currently employed by the Federal government.
According to Department of Labor (DOL), The Federal Wage Garnishment and Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) states that the garnishment law allows up to 50 percent of a worker’s disposable earnings to be garnished for child support or alimony. That 50 percent can quickly increase and exceed the requirements for different reasons. If the employee is supporting another child, the amount increases by five percent and up to 65 percent if the support payments are more than 12 weeks in arrears (DOL). Arrears, or debts, are any child support that have reached a past due or late status. Some parents have reported garnishments of up to 70 percent of their paychecks being withheld for child support and/or arrears payments.
The question quickly becomes why is there never an urgent concern for those who work every day, yet do not bring enough money to pay their bills, help for them avoid racking up late fees, and assistance to provide for their families. Many parents are living in poverty due to owing child support debt even though the largest number of these debtors have the lowest incomes. According to Joey Arthur of the OCSE (2018), the majority (60%) of debtors with more than $100,000 in arrears had no reported income. That brings up an equally pressing matter. There should and must be some relief for these parents who are not receiving a paycheck due to unemployment, disabilities, or other barriers prohibiting them from making timely child support payments. Especially since most states charge hefty interest rates, as high as 12%, on unpaid child support debt. Thanks to the Bradley Amendment, this debt is nearly impossible to have forgiven.
Some will argue that those parents should pay, even if it means that they are left with nothing. The money, after all, goes to supporting their children. That argument is partially true and depends entirely on the status of the child support case. If the child support case is a Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) or a welfare case, the custodial parent is mandated to sue the non-custodial parent for child support. That means that the government will retain some or all of the child support payment once received. According to The Office of Family Assistance, TANF is a program designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency. However, the government expects the money to be repaid by the non-custodial parents. This does not apply for non-TANF child support cases and these are cases in which the government does not retain all of the child support money.
Repayment is the incorrect term since welfare benefits are grants and not loans and therefore, do not require repayment. Between 2013 and 2017, thee were a reported 41,663,783 non-TANF or non-welfare child support cases. On the other hand, during the same period, there were 7,772,771 and 31,660,794 current and former-TANF cases, respectively, (OCSE, 2018). Every state mandates that custodial parents sue for Medicaid benefits as well as TANF benefits. During 2013-2017, there were 9,482,492 open Medicaid cases, (OCSE, 2017).
Some states mandate that the custodial parent also sue in exchange for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), child care, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) but that depends solely on the state. These benefits must be ‘repaid’ as well. The numbers are significant because short of the agency allowing a ‘good cause’ relief on a child support case, the family will be sanctioned from receiving any benefits until the head of the household complies with the cooperation mandate. Not only does the custodial parent work for nothing, the family. dependent on welfare, is only receiving the bare minimum granted by the state in aid for low-income and poor families.
This is extremely critical considering those non-custodial parents are garnished nearly every penny of their disposable income to ‘repay’ welfare grants that never make it to the the intended beneficiaries, the children. Speaking of the children, many of those named in ‘former-TANF’ child support orders have reached the age-of-majority meaning they are adults and are no longer legally entitled to financial support from their parents. When considering the concern for employees caught in the stalemate which means no paycheck while working and for those parents working for little to no take home pay, they all deserve equal attention. The rent, electric, water, and every other bill still needs to be paid and individuals still needs to eat and clothe themselves in order to sustain a basic quality of life. This is a right of every United States citizen.
We, The People, must acknowledge each and every scenario that can and does leave an American worker with little to no money on payday. Child support guidelines concerning garnishments, especially when the debt is state-owned, needs to be reevaluated in all cases. Forcing people to work for nothing is akin to indentured servitude. For too many years, non-custodial parents have been forced to live as modern days slaves, even facing incarceration if child support payments are not made by the due date, with no empathy and no relief. No pay for one means no pay for all in almost all cases and we must recognize the connection.
Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2017). Preliminary report fy 2017. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/fy_2017_preliminary_data_report.pdf#page57
Office of Family Assistance. (n.d.). Temporary assistance for needy families (tanf). Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/programs/tanf
Robertson, C., Smith, M., & Blinder, A. (2019, January 3). Government shutdown leaves workers reeling: ‘We seem to be pawns?. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/us/government-shutdown-workers-pay.html
U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Fact sheet #30: The federal wage garnishment law, consumer credit protection act’s title III (ccpa). Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs30.pdf