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Monday, September 21, 2009

Unemployment creates a problem with child support payments

The number of non-custodial parents receiving unemployment benefits is much higher than last fall with human services officials expecting numbers to rise again this winter.

There were 12 non-custodial parents out of 853 child support cases receiving unemployment benefits in September 2008. Eleven months later in August that number rose to 54 out of 846 child support cases.

The numbers peaked in March when 78 non-custodial parents out of 871 child support cases received unemployment benefits.

Wadena County Human Services Director Paul Sailer explained the significance of the numbers.

“We started to track this because we were curious how this might affect child support payments,” he told commissioners at Tuesday’s social services board meeting.

For example, a father with a job who was making $400 payments in child support a month can go to court and have that amount reduced if he loses his job and is on unemployment, Sailer said. That, in turn, affects the mother, who may then qualify for public assistance programs.

Sailer was not hopeful the numbers would improve in coming months.

“I think these numbers are going to bounce back right about to where they were last winter,” he said.

Amie Spartz, collections and accounting supervisor, said in a subsequent e-mail interview she cannot give a specific amount for the impact the unemployment rate has on child support payments. She does believe that the unemployment rate has affected the drop in collections recorded in the county.

In October through December 2008, social services disbursed $532,402 in child support payments, according to Spartz. There was an average of 32 obligors on unemployment during that time. In January through March the disbursement was down to $517,841 with an average of 72 obligors receiving unemployment. In April though June social services disbursed $605,790 with an average of 62 obligors receiving unemployment benefits.

Spartz believed the April through June payments were higher because that is a peak time for intercepting federal and state income tax refunds, she said.

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