La. using new sources to collect child support

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Casino winnings, tax refunds and Gulf oil leak settlements are helping state government in Louisiana collect child support.

“Casino intercepts are just one tool used to collect the more than $1.2 billion in unpaid child support (that) is owed by parents in LA,” Suzy Sonnier, secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services tweeted Monday.

The state intercepted:

  • $43.7 million in state and federal tax refunds in 2012.
  • $8.4 million from settlements tied to the 2010 BP oil leak.
  • Nearly $850,000 since September 2011 from casino winnings.

At the same time, the state’s backlog in unpaid child support remains largely stagnant as parents fail to keep current on their payments.

Lisa Andry, program executive director for child support enforcement at Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, said the backlog stood at $1.26 billion in December 2011 and climbed to $1.33 billion in December 2012. “Everyone would have to pay all of their current support for that to go down,” Andry said.

The state also collects roughly $280 million a year through wage garnishments, Andry said.

Casino winnings and the BP oil spill are relatively new tools for intercepting child support.

A 2010 state law sponsored by then-state Sen. Nick Gautreaux, of Meaux, allowed those behind on their child support payments to be stripped of their casino winnings. Casinos lock slot machines when jackpots of $1,200 or more are won in order to comply federal tax reporting requirements, allowing gambling houses to also check for back child support from a state database.

The state started by seizing winnings at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, the Belle of Baton Rouge, Amelia Belle, Shreveport’s Eldorado Casino and Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino. The first payment was collected two days after the program launched.

Now the state is intercepting winnings at 18 casinos across Louisiana. The only casinos that do not divert winnings from gamblers owing child support are the Indian reservation casinos.

The biggest interception, so far, was $23,398.42 in December at the Amelia Belle near Morgan City for child support cases involving four children, Andry said. Last month, the state got a $10,000 hit at the same casino, she said.

Gautreaux said he is thrilled the program is working.

“I’ve always said it’s more money for the kids ... Deadbeat parents need to pay their child support,” he said.

Gautreaux said the program proves Louisiana can be at the forefront of something positive.

Numbers released last week by the state Department of Children and Family Services showed the biggest total interceptions have been at:

  • Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, $106,771.93
  • Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino in Opelousas, $85,403.55
  • Boomtown Belle in Harvey, $73,401.40

More than $20,000 has been collected at L’Auberge Baton Rouge, which opened in September.

In 2010, a Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion killed 11 men and shut down drilling, impacting businesses along Louisiana’s coast.

Billions of dollars will be paid to settle claims.

Andry said the state linked to the settlement center and diverted $8.4 million for 3,464 child support cases. The biggest hit, she said, was $37,428.05 for a case involving two children.

“BP has certainly slowed down a lot. We got a lot of money at first when all the claims were being filed,” she said.