DES overcharges parents paying child support, leaving them with little unemployment aid

By: - May 13, 2020 7:22 pm

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Parents in Arizona who pay child support have received hardly any of the meaningful state and federal unemployment aid that they are entitled to because the Arizona Department of Economic Security overcharged them for their child support obligation, according to the state agency.

While DES already deducts child support obligations from unemployment payments, an agency system programming issue left 1,360 jobless parents without the $600 weekly aid approved by Congress, known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, for weeks.

DES said it issued the payments owed to jobless parents who pay child support last week.

The morning of May 7, Stephanie Flanery checked her DES account. She is one of the jobless parents affected by the delay in unemployment assistance. Flanery said the unemployment aid she was owed was deposited, but not the $688 per week she expected. Flanery’s weekly unemployment payment went from $148 in state aid to $418 with combined state and federal unemployment aid.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Flannery told Arizona Mirror in an email. “THEY ARE TAKING $295 A WEEK FROM ME ON CHILD SUPPORT!!!!!!!”

Flanery said her child support obligation is $80 a month for her 16-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. Flanery said her daughter recently moved back in with her.

“That’s $1,200 a month they are taking for me. That’s for one child and I have four other ones over here,” she said over the phone.

Flanery lives in Mammoth, a small town northeast of Tucson, with her boyfriend and three other children who are 7, 3 and 2. She lost her job as a restaurant cook the last week of March.

DES spokesman Brett Bezio said in an email Monday that the agency is automatically withholding 50% of the federal $600 unemployment aid for parents paying child support, which in some cases means the agency is overcharging jobless parents.

“The Social Security Act requires states to have automated processes for withholding child support payments from UI benefits. Fifty percent will be withheld from Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments,” Bezio said.

The $600 weekly federal unemployment payments were designed to be a lifeline to Americans who suddenly found themselves out of work or working reduced hours as the economy contracted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Arizona, unemployed residents can collect the $600 aid going back to March 29 until July 15.

On April 13, DES began issuing these payments to people who were approved for state unemployment benefits.

With $418 weekly unemployment aid, Flanery is unsure how her family will stay afloat amid an economic recession.

“The amount they gave me will barely cover my bills. I’m past due on rent, all utilities, a loan payment” and credit cards, she said. “I have two in diapers and a total of six people in my household and three phone bills.”

Flanery said last year she fell behind on child support payments, but when she filed her 2019 taxes that debt was deducted from the tax return she received in February. In April, Flanery got a letter from the federal government stating she won’t receive the stimulus check of at least $1,200 because she owed child support.

“I don’t understand how that is possible for them to collect a debt twice. The same place that took the money the first time is the one that took the money the second time,” Flanery said. “That’s not fair.”

‘They literally owe me now!’

Ty Young, who lives in Tempe, also spent weeks without the $600 federal unemployment aid. He said he pays $450 every month in child support for his 18-year-old son.

On May 7, DES paid him for the federal unemployment aid that was delayed, but, like Flanery, he was shorted because of an overcharge in child support obligations: Young expected a $636 payment and instead received $336 in unemployment assistance.  DES deducted $388 each week for child support — rather than the roughly $113 it was supposed to — from his unemployment payment, he said.

“That means they took out more than $1,786 for child support for a six-week period,” he said in an email. “My son graduates from high school in June, so I only have two months of child support to pay. They literally owe me now!”

Young lost his job as a restaurant manager on March 20. He is also a freelance writer, but as state businesses resume operations, his job prospects are limited because he has diabetes, which puts him at a high-risk of falling severely ill from COVID-19.

Bezio, from DES, explained parents who were overcharged for child support will have their cases reviewed and refunds will be issued.

“If past due support (arrears) are owed on the child support case, the additional money collected will apply to the current support debt and then to other child support debt obligations,” Bezio said. “If a paying parent is current on their child support case with no outstanding debt, the result of the weekly UI payments, additional retroactive UI payments, FPUC or additional sources of payments may result in an overpayment of child support.

“If this occurs, the case will be reviewed to determine if a refund is appropriate. This process does not require action or input from the paying parent. The process may take up to five business days,” Bezio said.

After scrambling for weeks without an income and little unemployment assistance, both Flanery and Young worry the refund for the child support overcharge won’t come in time.

“I need this to be figured out by the end of the month or else I’ll have to pay my rent on a credit, which I definitely don’t want to do,” Young said. “I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.