Benefits changes may hurt poor fathers who owe child support

A current change to how the Department of the Treasury pays out federal benefits may end up having a negative impact on Missouri fathers who are already behind on child support payments. The change is scheduled to take place next March.

Currently, people who receive federal benefits, such as Social Security, veterans’ benefits or disability, are able to receive those benefits in the form of a check. For a father who may have his bank account frozen by the state for unpaid child support, by receiving the benefit in the form of a check, it is possible to cash that check without the possibility of state agencies completely garnishing that money.

However, in an effort to save money, the Department of the Treasury will start having those federal benefits directly deposited into people’s bank accounts, or having them loaded onto prepaid debit cards. This will open up the chance for state agencies to have access to all of the benefits.

The claim is that in the next 10 years, by switching to a paperless system, the government will save $1 billion. The difference is that it costs the government $1 to mail a check, but only 10 cents to electronically transfer the benefits.

However, the issue for many is that a lot of these unpaid child support cases are decades old. In many cases the children are already grown, and the money will actually end up going to the state.

Additionally, many fathers who owe thousands and thousands of dollars in child support are many times rather poor themselves, which is why the typical way of collecting back child support — garnishing wages, suspending driver’s licenses and revoking passports — do not tend to work. Basically, many of these fathers do not have wages that can even be garnished, and cannot afford to drive or travel, so they do not have anything for the state to take away.

However, now the fear is that with state agencies in Missouri having access to federal benefits, those fathers who are already financially hurting will be left with nothing.

But what do you think? Should the state be able to have access to these federal benefits? Should a cap be put on how much the state can garnish from a person’s bank account to go toward unpaid child support?

Source:, “Child support debts may leave some with no income,” Daniel Wagner, Feb. 27, 2012

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