BOSTON — Deadbeat dads and moms around the country are discovering that their economic stimulus checks from Washington — intended to encourage the purchase of TVs, cars and other goods — are being intercepted and funneled toward the support of their children.
Treasury Department figures show that more than 1.4 million of the checks have been seized since the payments began last spring, and $831 million has been collected by child support agencies nationwide.
Cheryl Hayes, 32, a paralegal student from Auburn, Mass., said her ex-husband owes $30,000 in support for their three children, and she hopes to see some of that via his stimulus check.
Hayes said that she knows the stimulus checks were intended to encourage people to head down to the local Wal-Mart, Best Buy or Home Depot but, in the case of deadbeat parents, their children's well-being should come first.
"The stimulus check is something at least they can get to help live off of," Hayes said. "It should go to the children because the children are the ones that would need it."
The parents who are owed child support won't immediately see the money. In some cases they might not receive it at all.
The intercepted checks in Massachusetts, for example, are deposited with the state and held for 180 days to allow the parent to file an appeal. If the appeal is denied, the money is turned over to the parent who has custody — in most cases, the mother — unless she has been on public assistance, in which case the money can go back to the state and federal government to reimburse the taxpayers.
The stimulus program proposed by President Bush and approved by Congress provided $600 checks for most individuals and $1,200 for couples filing jointly, with a $300 per-child credit added on.
States submit the names and Social Security numbers of deadbeat parents to the IRS, which crosschecks those names against the lists of taxpayers receiving stimulus checks. The IRS then sends the deadbeat parents' checks straight to state child support agencies.
The diverted ones are just a fraction of the more than 112 million stimulus checks issued as of the start of July. So far, the IRS has dispensed checks totaling $92 billion.