After checking each address, six men were arrested, owing what Sheriff Jim Johnson estimated to be $60,000 in back child support.
Lagging payments are common. In the last week of January, only 19 percent of people paying child support in Lee County had paid the full amount due for the month.
The child support system is monitored and enforced through the Mississippi Department of Human Services to make sure every child is financially supported by both parents.
Kelley Homan, 34, of Tupelo, is a single mother of two who struggled with the court system to receive child support payments for two years while going to school to get her master’s degree in mental health counseling.
“I’m just a graduate student and I was really struggling,” she said. “We live with my parents right now because it was so hard to make it on my own in graduate school.”
She estimates without counting transportation expenses, rent and other monthly utilities, it costs $500 to keep her daughter clothed, fed and supported.
Beginning in August, Homan began receiving her monthly child support payments.
She said knowing there will be money to pay for her daughter’s gymnastics, piano lessons, groceries and school supplies instead of relying on financial aid sets her at ease.
“It used to be very difficult to wonder when things were going to be paid.”
Department of Human Services Child Support Attorney Kristin Belvin spends all of her working hours trying to make sure legal guardians have financial assistance in raising children.
Belvin is tasked with working with the Chancery Court to make sure each person with a child support obligation pays it and those who don’t have incarceration orders.
The caseload is so heavy in Lee County that a parent could go without payment for a year before the case reaches court.
The child support payment is based on a parent’s take-home pay. A parent paying child support is required to pay 14 percent of what he takes home (after taxes and any other legal obligations are subtracted) to the legal guardian of their child.
In Lee County, the average amount comes to $170 each month and the minimum payment for those drawing unemployment or making minimum wage is $132.
Case managers are able to intercept wages from parents who collect state benefits like Social Security or unemployment payments.
Incarceration orders for parents who have failed to pay child support usually require the parent to pay the full amount owed before leaving jail.
Johnson estimated his department serves two or three incarceration orders each week for delinquent child support payments on inmates brought in for other crimes or during routine stops.