by Dale Coberly

Javert And Evil

From a message from the National Consumer Law Center (reference msaunders@nclc.org):

It’s perfectly fine for a person who failed to pay their child support to end up penniless and living in their car, and to die that way.

– High Ranking U.S. Treasury Official, in response to a request for help with Treasury’s rules which allow 100% of Social Security benefits to be taken to pay for decades-old child support. February 3, 2012. As the result of the concurrence of two new Treasury rules, elderly and disabled Social Security recipients will soon lose all of their benefits to old child support orders.

• As of March, 2013, all recipients of federal benefits must receive benefits through electronic deposit, either through deposit directly into a bank account, or using the Treasury authorized Direct Express Card. (31 CFR § 208.4.) 

· Treasury’s new garnishment rule, intended to protect benefits in bank accounts from garnishment allows child support orders to garnish all of the funds in the accounts. (31 CFR 221.4.)  

As a result, 65% of the recipient’s benefits will be withheld pursuant to administrative seizures and paid directly to the child support office. The remaining 35% will be deposited into the beneficiary’s bank account, where it will be seized in full through a bank garnishment.

Most SS recipients who owe child support are old and or disabled.  Their children are grown and the child support is owed to the state. The amounts of the orders have ballooned to tens of thousands because of annual 10 or 12% interest rates applied.
· Although blind and elderly, Mr. W. found a legal services lawyer in September 2010 when the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) ordered Treasury to take $217 from his Social Security check (which normally is $775).  Five weeks after the legal services lawyer filed papers, the OCSE stopped the garnishment as it was required to do under New York State law. But in January 2011, the OCSE’s computer matched and froze Mr. W. ‘s bank account, depriving him of his entire Social Security payment. Again the legal services lawyer interceded, and after several weeks, the OCSE returned Mr. W. ‘s Social Security. But in July 2011, the OCSE’s computer froze Mr. W. ‘s account again. South Brooklyn Legal Services fought to retrieve his Social Security payment so Mr. W. could pay his rent. 

· Mr. R. is sixty two years old, homebound, and lives entirely off of his $780 Social Security payment. In June 2011, the OCSE ordered the U.S. Treasury to garnish 65% of Mr. R. Social Security check for child support arrears owed to his adult children. This reduced his check to $273. Unable to pay his rent or feed himself for an entire month, R. protested to the OCSE. After reviewing evidence in July 2011 showing Mr. R. lived below the poverty line, the OCSE stopped the garnishment as New York law requires. But the OCSE did not reprogram its computers. On August 5, 2011, Mr. Richard’s bank account containing his restored, direct deposit Social Security check was matched and seized by the OCSE’s computer.  Although a legal services lawyer sent Mr. R.’s bank records to the OSCE, the account remains restrained. So desperate remains Mr. R. that he went by access-a-ride in his wheelchair to the local OSCE office in person, begging for money for rent. An indifferent bureaucrat told him to come back with an award letter form Social Security and perhaps he would do something. Mr. R. called Social Security and was told he would receive an award letter in seven to ten business days. And because the Social Security Administration could not switch his electronic check to paper until 6 weeks later, his next month’s check sailed electronically into his frozen account where it was also unreachable to him.

I have argued in this space that Social Security is the only way ordinary workers have to save their own money for retirement in a way that is protected from inflation and market losses. People of a Libertarian Persuasion have argued that the money is NOT safe from “the government.” In general that has not been the case… only one person has lost his Social Security money because of “the government,” and he was a deported communist. that is, someone we the people, though our government, are perfectly willing to cheat and cause great harm. I have thought the government would not be able to cheat and harm the entire population of Social Security contributors and recipients.

But “the government” appears to be embarked on a course to give aid and comfort to those who say “you can’t trust the government.”

Well, you can’t.  Unless WE have the decency to protect “the least of these” against the evil that can and does appear from time to time in “our government,” we can expect the time will come when we are among that select minority which the government can cheat and harm with impunity because “we the people” don’t give a damn.

It’s not Social Security that is at fault here. It is us.

Let it be understood that I am not arguing that folks should not be required to pay their child support. But hitting someone old or disabled with a decades old bill, with accrued interest, that takes everything they have to live on, and saying, “It’s perfectly fine for a person who failed to pay their child support to end up penniless and living in their car, and to die that way,” …is evil.

I don’t know if this is part of an ongoing “conspiracy” to discredit Social Security, or if it is just the random evil that can occur at all times… in government or out of it. But it is evil. And we should stop it.

(Dan here…some formatting changes have been made but not the prose)