By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A high unemployment rate has slowed the payment of child support and forced custodial parents to find other means to make up the difference.
Latoya Mitchell’s ex-husband had always been a good father to their sons, JaMichael and Dylan, and hadn’t missed a child support payment in five years after their divorce. Mitchell said the checks came like clockwork until he lost his job last year.
At first, Mitchell said, the child support payments were being taken out of his unemployment compensation every week, but those funds dried up recently.
Now with no child support money coming in, Mitchell has taken on extra jobs to make ends meet.
“He is not a bad person and he still tries to give money when he has it,” said Mitchell. “But there is just no money coming in for him and me, and the boys have to live. We depended on that money a lot and with it gone I had to do something to make up for it. I hate that he is out of work, but we have to live, too.”
Mitchell works at a local gas station part time and a factory full time.
The problem facing Mitchell and her ex-husband is common in the child support system. Walley Maylor, director of Child Support Services for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, said economic troubles have hit the child support system hard over the past couple of years.
“Eighteen months ago we were collecting about $800,000 of child support per quarter statewide from unemployment checks,” said Maylor. “Now we are collecting $3.6 million per quarter from unemployment checks. That is a huge jump for people who are out of work and still having to pay child support. Then after we take the money out for child support, they have very little to pay their other bills with, so it’s bad for everyone right now.”
Lee County had nearly 9,000 child support cases in 2009 and collected about $4.6 million in payments. But since 1994, nearly $29 million is unpaid in Lee County alone.
A bad economy and loss of employment do not let people off the hook from making their payments, said Maylor.
“These families still depend on and need that money,” he said. “So it’s still our jobs to try to collect it the best way we can. So that may mean suspending licenses or it could mean going to jail.”
Maylor said suspending personal and professional licenses and the threat of jail time are tools used to motivate people who are delinquent on their payments to comply.
When people are 30 days late paying child support, they receive a notice that gives them 90 days to get caught up. If they fail to do so, their licenses are subject to suspension.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said he’s had inmates who have owed as much as $90,000 in child support. He said the amount of time they spend in jail may vary, but they can stay until the full balance is taken care of.
Johnson said money is not knocked off what is owed for child support during the jail stay, so the debt could increase while a person is in jail. But that doesn’t mean child support goes unpaid.
“You’d be surprised the money people come up with when they are presented with jail time,” Maylor said. “People find a way to get their business taken care of.”
Even though she said she understands her ex-husband’s situation, Mitchell said she has to think about her two boys.
“We have to eat,” she said. “It’s not easy being a single mother and a lot of us depend on that extra help from the child support. I hope he finds work soon, because I don’t know how long I can do it alone.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.