A fugitive people within a nation is tyranny.

Posts tagged ‘Orwell’

Web of Inquisitional U.S. Law Creating Criminals

we the peopleFor decades, Washington D.C. has been adding to the number of federal laws and regulations that carry criminal penalties. Now the number is so high, no one is actually sure how many there are. Experts say practically anyone could be convicted of some sort of federal crime. And it’s all too easy for anyone to violate one of these laws and never know it. Congress has made it dangerous just to be alive in America, never mind whether you are guilty or not. Like federal child support laws, it’s all a matter of inquisition. Common law is dead.

The truth is that anyone can fall prey to overcriminalization. Civil rights have become secondary to the Rule of Law and I don’t mean Common Law. This law certainly isn’t your grandfathers law. [protected] Legal misadventures happened to racing legend Bobby Unser beginning in 1996. Unser went snowmobiling in the Rio Grande National Forest on the border of New Mexico and Colorado.

He and a friend got caught in a blizzard and were stranded for two days and two nights. They barely escaped with their lives. But that was only the beginning of his ordeal. “Bottom line: Don’t trust any government agency,” he warned. “Stand as clear from them as you can. Stay away from them because they’re not there for your good.”

Unser found himself in the middle of a fight with the U.S. Forest Service, facing a possible $5,000 fine and six months in jail for violating The Wilderness Act. The agency accused him of illegally snowmobiling on federally protected land known as “wilderness area.” The racing champ claimed that even if he was in the wilderness area, it was only when he was lost in the snowstorm. With money in the bank and the idea of principle, Unser decided to fight the charge in court.

“Well, I estimate that we probably spent around $300,000, maybe $350,000 would be my guess,” Unser said. As for the government, they spent millions of dollars in their efforts for prosecute Unser. “At the time we went to court, they’d already spent up somewhere around a million dollars. What – it’s the taxpayers money. They didn’t really care how much it cost,” he said.

In the end, he lost and paid a $75 fine. Now the three-time Indy 500 winner has another title to add to his record: He’s been convicted of a federal misdemeanor for getting lost in the wilderness.

Like many others, Unser blames Congress and the men that run it for the growing number of federal laws.

But it’s not just lawmakers who are at fault. Federal agencies not only enforce the laws, but write their own regulations which also carry criminal penalties. With government involved in everything from the environment to employment to health, anyone can easily get caught in the web of federal laws. The numbers prove it. Between 2000 and 2010, close to 800,000 people were sentenced for federal crimes.

Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican – Texas is among a few lawmakers on Capitol Hill sounding the alarm about the disturbing phenomenon, saying that Congress should re-think stiff penalties on simple accounting errors when filing taxes. In the past 20 or 30 years the number of people in jails and prisons in American has gone up almost tenfold because every time you turn around there are new laws.

One solution is for the House Judiciary Committee to oversee any new regulation that carries a criminal penalty, but this may be akin to having another fox to watch the hen house. The attitude behind the penalties is that Congress wants to appear to be tough on crime, including doubling up where state law is sufficient. It wastes money and doesn’t reduce crime. Orwell’s classic book “1984” states the case where fear is predominant and the violation of federal law is likely. There isn’t enough public awareness or outrage! Sadly, this is already because of fear.
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U.S. Law with a Serious Flaw

homelessA new law is on the books that promises great harm to people that can afford it the least.

The law bars creditors from seizing Social Security payments and other federal benefits for veterans, the poor, the aged and the disabled. But banks often said they could not determine the source of customers’ deposits and allowed creditors to garnish accounts containing federal funds. The new rule adds electronic tags to automatically deposited government payments and requires banks to protect tagged deposits made in the prior two months.

Here’s the issue: The new rule will still allow seizure of all funds in an account if a state is trying to collect unpaid child support. That may seem to be a good way to get tough on deadbeat dads, but it will cause undue harm.

In a letter to the commissioner of Social Security, the National Consumer Law Center and 72 other advocacy groups pointed out that 70 percent of uncollected child support is owed by people who live below the poverty line and much of the debt arose because support obligations were not revised when the debtor became disabled, unemployed or incarcerated. Since the debts are often old, the amounts have been inflated by interest and penalties.

To both collect the debts and avoid driving these debtors into complete destitution, the law allows Social Security to withhold up to 65 percent of a benefit to cover unpaid child support — and to pay the recipient the rest. Recipients of reduced benefits have been able to shield the remainder by receiving their payment via paper check and simply cashing it. Starting next year, all government benefits will be automatically deposited. If the rule is not amended, the full amount will be subject to seizure.

The way to fix the problem is to rework the garnishment rule so that it treats child support debts the same way it treats other debts. Fixing the rule would not excuse nonpayment of child support. Rather, it would achieve what the law intended by ensuring that no one is impoverished by ruthless debt collection.

original post at New York Times: February 23, 2012

Paperless Child Support Payments May Cost Poor Fathers Only

check book slavery

Old child support debts could cost thousands of poor men their only income next year because of a policy aimed at reducing the cost to the government of mailing paper checks to pay federal benefits.

The Treasury Department will start paying benefits electronically next March. It will stop issuing the paper checks that many people rely on to safeguard a portion of their benefits from states trying to collect back child support.

States can freeze the bank accounts of people who owe child support. A separate Treasury Department rule, in place since last May in a preliminary form, guarantees them the power to freeze Social Security, disability and veterans’ benefits that have been deposited into those accounts.

Once paper checks are eliminated, about 275,000 people could lose access to all of their income, advocates say.

“It’s kind of Orwellian, what’s being set up here for a segment of the population,” says Johnson Tyler, an attorney who represents poor and disabled people collecting federal benefits. “It’s going to be a nightmare in about a year unless something changes.”

In many cases, the bills are decades old and the children long grown. Much of the money owed is interest and fees that add up when men are unable to pay because they are disabled, institutionalized or imprisoned.

Most of the money will go to governments, not to the children of the men with child support debts, independent analyses show. States are allowed to keep child support money as repayment for welfare previously provided for those children.

In some instances, the grown children are supporting their fathers.

The rule change illustrates how a politically desirable goal like cracking down on so-called deadbeat dads can have complicated, even counterproductive, effects in practice.

“The rule doesn’t look at the fact that the money is mostly interest, the money is going to the state, the kids are usually adults, and it’s leaving the payer with nothing,” says Ashlee Highland, a legal aid attorney who works with the poor of Chicago.

Highland says her office has clients in eviction, in foreclosure and unable to pay their bills because of states’ aggressive efforts to collect back child support.

Marcial Herrera, 44, has had his bank account frozen repeatedly since 2009, blocking his access to $800 a month in government benefits. Unable to work because of a severe back injury he suffered in 2000, Herrera fell behind on child support. He owes more than $7,000 – not to his 22-year-old son, but to the state of New York, because his son received welfare years earlier.

Herrera sought help in court and had his son speak on his behalf, but the judge could not erase the thousands he already owed.

“I’m just waiting for them to lock me up,” he says. “I don’t see no other way of me repaying that debt.”

A legal aid attorney suggested Herrera collect his benefits by paper check. It costs him $15 to cash the check each month, but at least he can be sure that he will have money to pay his bills.

States have had the ability to freeze accounts for years. That’s why people like Herrera rely on paper checks to safeguard part of their income.

Starting next March, that option will disappear. The Treasury Department will deposit federal benefits directly into bank accounts or load them onto prepaid debit cards. Either way, state child support agencies will be able to seize all of it.

Electronic payments are expected to save the government $1 billion over the next 10 years, the Treasury Department says. It costs the government about $1 to mail a check, compared with about 10 cents for an electronic transfer.

The Treasury Department understands that forcing people into direct deposit could deprive them of all of their income, say officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the rule-writing process.

States can garnish only 65 percent of benefits before the federal government sends them out. But the limit does not apply once the money is in an account and states ask banks to freeze it, according to a Treasury Department memo obtained by The Associated Press.

A Treasury spokesman declined to discuss the policy. The officials who spoke on condition of anonymity say they believe the policy is legally unavoidable. They described a dilemma: Restrain states trying to collect child-support debts or risk depriving thousands of people of their only income.

Treasury’s legal justification assumes that receiving a paper check is still an option, says Tyler, the Brooklyn attorney.

Letting state agencies seize the money contradicts the public stance of the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency in charge of child support collections. The department does not want states to collect child support so aggressively that poor people lose their only income, spokesman Ken Wolfe says.

“Child support enforcement – getting that money and passing it on to parents and children – is a measure to fight poverty, and it doesn’t make sense to accomplish that by impoverishing somebody else,” he says.

Wolfe said HHS is developing guidelines for states to “make sure we’re not putting someone into deep poverty as a result of an automatic collection.” He declined to provide details of those plans.

Lawyers from HHS agreed with Treasury’s decision to let states seize benefits, according to the Treasury memo.

An early version of the Treasury department rule protected people from having their federal benefits frozen by debt collectors – including private collection agencies and states seeking back child support.

State child support agencies replied in public comments on the proposed rule that blocking their access to people’s benefits would cause great harm to parents and children receiving child support.

HHS research suggests the policy could deepen the hardship for people who collect benefits as well.

People who owe large amounts of child support are almost universally poor. Among those owing $30,000 or more, three-fourths had no reported income or income of less than $10,000, HHS says. Many had their earnings interrupted by disability or jail time and are unlikely to repay the child support debt, the government-sponsored research says.

The usual methods of collecting back child support often don’t work with the poor. States typically start by garnishing wages. If that doesn’t work, they can suspend driver’s licenses, revoke passports and take away professional credentials.

Those measures have little effect on poor people without jobs who rely on federal benefits. They have no wages to garnish and no passports. Many can’t afford a car and do not need a driver’s license.

State child support agencies echo the HHS view that child support enforcement should not be so draconian that people end up with nothing.

“You don’t want the noncustodial parent to go out and be living on the streets. You’re not going to collect anything at that point,” says Tom Shanahan, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The Idaho department requires people who owe child support to show good faith by paying a minimum amount and seeking jobs when they are out of work, Shanahan says.

The White House is reviewing the final version of the rule. Its impact so far has been limited, legal-aid lawyers say, because people can still use paper checks. A White House spokeswoman did not respond a request for comment.

In a letter sent last week, the National Consumer Law Center and dozens of other groups called on the head of the Social Security Administration to withdraw his support for the rule.

“While both current and past due child support orders should be paid,” the letter said, it should not result “in the complete impoverishment of recipients” of federal benefits.

The issue has failed to raise alarm in part because most people feel little in common with men labeled deadbeat dads, says John Vail, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Litigation who provided legal services for the poor for decades.

“There’s not a lot of sympathy for deadbeat dads, and justly so,” Vail says. “But everybody’s got limits, and I think people who have never walked a mile in some of those old, worn-out shoes are a little quick to rush to judgment about what that life might be like.”

from the Huffington Post

Child Support: New Wrinkle to Garnishing Your Social Security

decisions about wealth and lifestyleHere’s an off-the-wall retirement planning wrinkle.

New rules take affect May 1 that make it much harder for creditors to garnish Social Security, veterans pensions, Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability from recipients who owe them money.

The new U.S. Treasury rule requires all banks to determine whether an account contains these protected funds. If an account contains protected funds, the bank is required to protect two months’ of benefit payments from garnishment. Protection of more than two months’ of benefit payments requires additional court filings and in practice, makes these funds immune from seizure by creditors, says Margot Saunders, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

It works like this. You fail to pay your car payment and the car dealer comes and takes the car, then he sues and gets a judgment against you for the remainder of what you owe him. He goes to the bank and attempts to garnish your money. Under the new rule, the creditor can pick any day he wants for the garnishment and the bank must respond by looking at your account for the previous 60 days. Let’s say you received a $1,100 Social Security payment one month and another $1,100 Social Security payment the next month. That $2,200 is protected. If there is any other money above and beyond that amount that has been deposited in the account during that period and is still sitting there, the creditor gets it. If there is no other money, the creditor is out of luck. He gets bupkis.

There are two exceptions, Saunders says: money you owe Uncle Sam and money you owe in child support. If you have these kind of debts, an attorney or the IRS can petition Social Security directly and collect.

If a debt collector begs to differ, Saunders points them to this statement on the Social Security website. She says garnishment of Social Security has always been against the law, but creditors have found ways around it. This change in the rule should eliminate those loopholes. On the other hand, if you fear you might find yourself in this kind of debt-collection dilemma during your retirement, the best way to protect yourself is to have your Social Security check deposited into an account that you don’t use for anything else.

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