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Southwest Louisiana ,


Editorial: State zeroes in on deadbeat parents

Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 5:39 PM

There are too many parents out there not living up to their child support obligations. Thankfully Louisiana government is getting smarter about collecting the money from delinquents.

The state is now looking to such sources as casino winnings, tax refunds and Gulf oil leak settlements to reach those “deadbeat” parents who neglect their parental duty.

“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 Louisiana,” according to Suzy Sonnier, secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services.

The department head noted 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; and nearly $850,000 since September 2011.

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 DCPS, 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 collected roughly $280 million a year through wage garnishments, Andry said.

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 with federal reporting requirements, allowing gambling houses to also check for back child support from a state database.

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 totals intercepted came from Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, $106,771.93; Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino in Opelousas, $85,403.55; and Boomtown Belle in Harvey, $73,401.40.

The fact that so much money is being recovered from parents delinquent on their support at casinos is a testament to the enormity of this problem in Louisiana. It is stunning that so many parents could be so neglectful as to the gamble away money that should be going to their children.

The Department of Children and Family Services is to be commended for its efforts to rectify a grievous wrong. But much more needs to be done and efforts should be stepped up to bring down a level of child support delinquency that is simply unacceptable.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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