Disaster funds diverted by state

Money seized for back child support

MICHELLE MILLHOLLON

Capitol news bureau

The state is diverting disaster payments from the BP oil leak to chip away at a $1.2 billion backlog in unpaid child support.

Lisa Andry, executive program director over the state Department of Children and Family Services’ child support enforcement, said that the agency has intercepted $5.5 million in payments to people who are behind on their child support.

The agency also is gearing up plans to begin taking casino winnings from people who failed to pay their court-ordered support to their children.

“Business is booming,” Andry said.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico last year. BP is paying billions of dollars to shrimpers and others impacted by the disaster.

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility is overseeing the payments.

Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for the claims facility, said more than $5 billion has been paid to individuals.

Andry said the state asked the Gulf Coast Claims Facility in November to look among the list of people seeking BP payments for those who owe child support in Louisiana.

She said the names of 9,458 people owing $101 million in child support have been found among the claims applicants. Not all of those people, she said, will get a payment from BP, since some applications are denied.

Among the ones who were in line to receive money, the state diverted $5.5 million to help their families, Andry said.

The biggest individual diversion, she said, was $33,817.

So far, there have only been a smattering of complaints from people whose BP payments went toward their child support obligations, Andry said.

She said people receive notice of what has happened. “They owe the money, so we’ve gotten very few complaints,” Andry said.

The state also is preparing to implement a 2010 state law that allows those behind on their child support payments to be stripped of their casino winnings.

Winnings of $1,200 or more can be intercepted. The threshold for federal tax reporting requirements is $1,200. Casinos lock slot machines when a jackpot of that amount is won and ask the winner to fill out paperwork.

Andry said the state will pilot the program at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge this month to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Within a month, she said, big winnings will be intercepted at casinos across the state if a computer database determines the winner owes child support.

The bill creating the program was part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legislative package last year.

Andry said it took time to implement the program because the state had to work with casinos to design a portal with information on delinquent parents.

She said the state also pursues child support by suspending people’s drivers and hunting and fishing licenses.

“It’s great for some of these families that haven’t gotten anything for a very long time, to get payments,” Andry said.