Everyone in the United States must walk a straight line when it comes to paying federal-mandated child support, but those that handle your money don’t have the same sense of duty or expectation placed on them. Child support has super priority they say. In Florida, the Department of Revenue is not only withholding child support checks from some parents but some parents are getting paid with money that doesn’t belong to them. They simply aren’t towing the line, respecting your money, or that precious ‘super-priority’ child support.
Bonnie Step hadn’t received a child-support payment for months.
But she wasn’t angry at her ex-husband over the $2,300 she was owed. Instead, she blamed the state of Florida, which is collecting $684 from him every month.
The Florida Department of Revenue has heard similar complaints from others since the child-support disbursement unit began revamping its computer system, which keeps track of more than $1 billion in payments and payouts.
Department officials say the complaints represent less than 1 percent of the child-support cases it handles. But that means little to those who aren’t getting their payments even though ex-spouses are holding up their ends of the court-ordered agreements.
Step of Brandon grew so frustrated that she staged a protest outside what she calls a deadbeat department, a local child-support enforcement office.
After she picketed the office, caseworkers told her they had reopened her file. Within a short time, a lump sum was deposited into her account, she said.
“So how many other mothers are out there who are fighting this same fight?” she asked.
Ann Coffin oversees the child-support offices across the state. The Department of Revenue has 2,300 employees in 41 offices that disburse $1.6 billion a year to 1.1 million families in Florida.
Coffin said federal law requires every state to have an automated child-support system, and the department is struggling while updating its computers.
Previously, caseworkers reviewed every case to initiate any action, she said, but the new computer system scans every case every night and can automatically trigger activity. And there lies the glitch, she said, as 93 percent of the disbursements are done electronically.
“It’s unfortunate,” she said, “and I apologize to any of our customers that we don’t process their inquiries timely or accurately. I think right after implementing a brand new, very large operating system, there’s a learning curve for staff.”
She said problems do arise, and small pockets of problems are the result. She said the department processes 99 percent of payments within 24 hours of receipt of the check or transfer of funds.
She urged anyone with disbursement problems to call the department.
“I would like to say we have sufficient resources and sufficient information,” she said, “that if someone calls us today, we’re able to resolve whatever that problem is with the disbursement of that payment, you know, within a few days.
“We want them to have that money,” she said. “That helps them pay the rent. That helps them buy food and it helps them buy clothes.”
But Stacy Spivey says her problems with the Department of Revenue aren’t new.
Spivey, of Plant City, said her issues date back to 2007. The situation came to a head in September when her ex-husband’s bank accounts were frozen and she was told it would be 60 to 90 days before she would get a child-support check.
Her ex-husband sent her his banking statement. It showed two December payments had been made to the state, totaling more than $1,460.
She got a $2.17 check from but the department, but no more.
Eventually, the check came, but not until recently, when news reports surfaced about her problems with the department.
“The Department of Revenue,” she said, “I honestly don’t know what they’re there for.” She said it should be an advocate of child support recipients. “But, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”