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RI’s Deadbeat Dads Owe $318M in Child Support

Thursday, July 23, 2015

 

More than 30,000 deadbeat parents—overwhelmingly fathers—owe more than a quarter of a billion in child support payments, with nearly a third of the debt stemming from accrued interest, according to state data provided in response to a records request. 

The data show that 33,224 non-custodial parents owe $318,366,682 in child support payments as of the start of this month. That includes $99.2 million in interest payments alone.

“It is very concerning to me,” said state Rep. Sherry Roberts, a West Greenwich Republican who filed legislation in the last session that would have made it a felony for deadbeat parents to lie about their income to avoid making the payments.

State has 80,000 kids in the system

The numbers offer a glimpse of broken families in Rhode Island: 1,809 single parents with at least one child not yet 19 years old are owed $26.7 million. On the other side of the ledger, 22,775 fathers or non-custodial parents living in Rhode Island owe $148.5 million to a mother or custodial parent who has moved to another state. 

For parents who never paid the debt continues to accumulate even after their children grow up: since 1999, $159.1 million in back payments have piled up for children who are 19 years or older. 

In all, 79,936 children were enrolled in the state child support system, as of December 1, 2014, according to Rhode Island Kids Count.

That year, the percentage of cases in arrears in Rhode Island was 56.07 percent, beating the national average of 62.69, according to information provided by Sharon Santilli, the Associate Director, Office of Child Support Services in the Department of Human Services. Those rates have held nearly steady at both the state and national level for the previous four years.

Rhode Island collected $92.3 million in child support payments in 2014, up by $1.7 million over the previous year, according to Kids Count.

Good performance is rewarded with increased federal funding. In the past fiscal year, Rhode Island got $1.3 million in incentive funding, according to Santilli.  

Range of consequences for delinquency

The state has a number of enforcement tools at its disposal to crack down on deadbeats. Those include everything from driver’s license suspensions and credit bureau reporting to intercepting winnings or payments from insurance companies, the lottery, and the IRS, according to Santilli. She said wage withholding is “one of the most effective enforcement tools.”

When necessary, criminal proceedings are also an option.

Her agency is constantly seeking to expand its toolkit. Next on the agenda: suspending professional licenses and electronic wage withholding, according to Santilli.

And Roberts hopes to add yet one more. This year, her first in the General Assembly, she said her bill was held for further study. When asked if she would re-file the bill again, Roberts responded: “Absolutely.”  

Beyond cracking down on deliberate deadbeats, the state should help non-custodial parents who are legitimately struggling to make payments, according to Rachel Flum, a senior policy analyst at the Institute for Economic Progress, a local research center.  

“Child support arrearages can build up when a parent becomes unemployed and we know that RI has suffered from high unemployment rates. To ensure that children receive the support to which they are entitled we need a comprehensive approach that not only provides the Office of Child Support Services with the resources they need, but that provides job training and job search for the low-skilled, unemployment non-custodial parents who are often unable to meet this important obligation,” Flum said.

Flum also praised the current enforcement efforts of the state agency. “The Office of Child Support Services has been very aggressive in implementing tools and strategies to ensure collection of child support,” she said. “The Office of Child Support Services, which has the largest caseloads in New England, is tremendously efficient given their resources.”

For example, she pointed to the establishment of an automated collections process which withdraws child support payments from earnings, lottery winnings, or tax refunds.

Strain on social services

A Kids Count spokeswoman noted that child support is an important metric covered in the group’s annual Factbook.  

“The receipt of child support payments can significantly improve the economic well-being of a child growing up in a family with a non-resident parent. In 2011, child support lifted more than 500,000 U.S. children out of poverty,” the 2015 edition notes.

It adds: “Custodial parents who receive steady child support payments are less likely to rely on public assistance programs and more likely to find work faster and stay employed longer than those who do not.”

Some single parents receive both child support and public assistance. About a tenth of all kids in the state child support system are also recipients of one or more benefits through the state welfare program, known as Rhode Island Works. In 2014, the state collected more $4.6 million in payments for these children, according to Kids Count.

“Child Support is the safety net for these families and represents, on average, one third of the family’s monthly income.” 

Parents in RI Works are actually required to participate in the child support program in order to be eligible for welfare benefits. The typical monthly child support check for one of these parents is $250, according to Kids Count. But only $50 of that goes to the parent. The rest is split between the federal and state governments as reimbursement for cash benefits that are paid out, according to Santilli. (The state receives 34 percent, with the rest going to federal authorities, according to Santilli.)

That means that children and their single parents aren’t the only ones who suffer when the other parent doesn’t pay support. Payments that are late or never mean a loss in potential reimbursement money, putting another potential strain on social services, the data indicates.

Currently, $87.8 million in child support is owed for mothers—or custodial fathers—who receive one or more welfare benefits through the state. 

Tips on potential corruption at the local or state level, misspending, abuse of power, and other issues of public interest can be sent to [email protected]. Follow Stephen Beale on Twitter @bealenews

 

Related Slideshow: Child Support Debt in RI

Below is a breakdown of delinquent child support payments in Rhode Island. Payments are categorized according to regular payments that are owed and interest that has accrued on those late payments. Two types of recipients are also identified: those on a welfare program and those that are not. Welfare recipients receive only a fraction of child support payments. The remainder is used to reimburse the state and federal government. Data are separated into pre- and post-1999 figures because of a change in record-keeping made that year. Debts for children who have since reached adult age are also included. Figures are current as of July 1, 2015 and include late payments back to 1975. Data were provided by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services in response to a public records request.  

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# of Arrears Orders

(For Children Under 19)

In State: 576

Out of State: 13,476

Total: 14,052

Note: An arrears order refers to any number of enforcement actions, including but not limited to a 10 percent interest charge and a court-ordered payment.

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# of Arrears Orders

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: 46

Out of State: 339

Total: 385

Note: An arrears order refers to any number of enforcement actions, including but not limited to a 10 percent interest charge and a court-ordered payment.

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# of Arrears Orders

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: 592

Out of State: 5,378

Total: 5,970

Note: An arrears order refers to any number of enforcement actions, including but not limited to a 10 percent interest charge and a court-ordered payment.

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# Cases in Arrears

(Children Now Over 19)

In State: 1,809

Out of State: 22,775

Total: 24,584

Note: A case can go into arrears as soon as 30 days after a payment has been missed.

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# Cases in Arrears

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: 73

Out of State: 485

Total: 558

Note: A case can go into arrears as soon as 30 days after a payment has been missed. 

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# Cases in Arrears

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: 1,142

Out of State: 6,940

Total: 8,082

Note: A case can go into arrears as soon as 30 days after a payment has been missed. 

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Interest Due

Due to Welfare Recipients (with Children Under 19)

In State: $1,056,604

Out of State: $8,238,251

Total: $9,294,856

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Interest Due

Due to Welfare Recipients (with Children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: $275,244

Out of State: $1,246,895

Total: $1,522,140

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Interest Due

Due to Welfare Recipients (with Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: $4,884,882

Out of State: $16,411,818

Total: $21,296,700

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Regular Payments Owed

To Welfare Recipients (with Children Under 19)

In State: $2,721,038

Out of State: $21,275,837

Total: $23,996,875

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Regular Payments Owed

To Welfare Recipients (with children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: $368,408

Out of State: $2,009,256

Total: $2,377,664

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Regular Payments Owed

To Welfare Recipients (with Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: $5,178,076

Out of State: $24,219,962

Total: $29,398,039

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Interest Owed

To Non-Welfare Recipients (with Children Under 19)

In State: $5,637,921

Out of State: $23,863,079

Total: $29,501,001

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Interest Owed

To Non-Welfare Recipients (with Children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: $540,980

Out of State: $640,983

Total: $1,181,964

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Interest Owed

To Non-Welfare Recipients (With Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: $10,490,892

Out of State: $25,953,085

Total: $36,443,978

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Regular Payments Owed

To Non-Welfare Recipients (with Children Under 19)

In State: $17,332,346

Out of State: $95,176,125

Total: $112,508,471

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Regular Payments Owed

To Non-Welfare Recipients (with Children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: $209,337

Out of State: $445,955

Total: $655,292

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Regular Payments Owed

To Non-Welfare Recipients (With Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: $10,714,294

Out of State: $39,475,403

Total: $50,189,698

Note: Here ‘welfare’ is used to refer to recipients who are also beneficiaries of the Rhode Island Works program, which provides cash assistance, child care services, job training, food stamps and other services to low-income individuals and families. Recipients who are also in Rhode Island Works receive $50 of the child support payment. The rest of the payment is used to reimburse the state and federal government for the social services provided to the single parent. 

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Total Interest Owed

(For Children Under 19)

In State: $6,694,526

Out of State: $32,101,330

Total: $38,795,857

Note: The total is the sum of amounts owed to both welfare and non-welfare recipients. 

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Total Interest Owed

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: $816,225

Out of State: $1,887,879

Total: $2,704,104

Note: The total is the sum of amounts owed to both welfare and non-welfare recipients. 

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Total Interest Owed

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: $15,375,775

Out of State: $42,364,903

Total: $57,740,678

Note: The total is the sum of amounts owed to both welfare and non-welfare recipients. 

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Total Regular Pay Owed

(For Children Under 19)

In State: $20,053,384

Out of State: $116,451,963

Total: $136,505,347

Note: The total is the sum of amounts owed to both welfare and non-welfare recipients. 

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Total Regular Pay Owed

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for Before 1999

In State: $577,745

Out of State: $2,455,211

Total: $3,032,956

Note: The total is the sum of amounts owed to both welfare and non-welfare recipients. 

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Total Regular Pay Owed

(Children Now Over 19)

Figures for After 1999

In State: $15,892,371

Out of State: $63,695,366

Total: $79,587,738

Note: The total is the sum of amounts owed to both welfare and non-welfare recipients. 

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Totals Cases and Debt

Total Interest Owed: $99,240,640

Total Regular Payments Owed: $219,126,042

Grant Total: $318,366,682

Total Number of Cases: 33,224

 
 

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