SAN ANTONIO - It takes nearly $300 million to run the Texas Attorney General’s Child Support Division. Some of the programs offered by the AG’s office have gotten so expensive to run, the department has decided to pass the buck on to your children.
News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Mireya Villarreal found out there is some new state fees that will be coming directly out of every child support payments that are run through the State Disbursement Unit (SDU). They are fees most parents don’t know about.
It's a Wednesday morning inside Judge Jim Rausch's courtroom. The place is packed with parents looking to settle up their child support cases. On any given day the judge will hear between 60 and 80 cases.
The first case on Judge Rausch's docket this morning involves a dad, Cecilio Paez, who hasn't paid support for his two children in nearly two years. He owes Adriana Mejia more than $37,000.
"Have I been unfair with her as far as sending her the full amount of the $950 that I was ordered to pay? Yes, sir. I'm not going to deny that. But I sent what I could afford to send,” Paez said in court.
The father of two tried to reason with Cecilio Paez tries to reason with the judge, but Rausch isn't buying it. He sent Paez to jail and ordered him to pay $10,000 if he wanted to be released.
The mother in this case, Adriana Mejia, is happy something's getting done in her case. But she's not sure, even after his stay in jail, that her ex-husband will pay up. That's why she's not happy to hear about the attorney general's new fees being taken directly out of her children's support payments.
Mejia explained, "When you start to add it up, yea it is a lot. Just like today, the parking here was $10 dollars. That's your parking for the next time you come in for child support, you know.">
In 2011 it cost the state $13.1 million dollars to run the State Disbursement Unit (SDU); that's the program that handles child support payments.
In the past the state has had to use tax dollars and federal funds to support the system. But after state budgets were slashed a year ago, new legislation went into effect in September 2011 allowing the Texas Attorney General to charge parents for using this program. The cost is $3 for every payment that goes through the SDU.
Most parents we spoke with had no idea this was going on.
“It's upsetting because they can't get something. Right now they're going to say, you be a responsible and take care of your children. But because we can't take care of our system we're going to take a little bit out of your children’s mouths so we can do that,” Elroy Brown shared with us.
The Texas Attorney General didn't want to speak with us on camera about these new fees. But Judge Rausch defends the decision to pass these costs on to the parents that use this program. He explained the fees are just a small part of how much it really costs to run the child support division and all the programs they offer.
"These fees have existed, the basis for the fees have existed for years. The Attorney General just started collecting them months ago. And it was in part due to the budget problem in the state of Texas,” Judge Rausch noted.
Judge Rausch says the Attorney General employees that work in his courtroom spend countless hours making sure the children in our city are taken care of. He understands parents may not like these new fees, but tells us it's better to make those parents pay than all the other tax payers who get no use out of the child support system.
"This is all about the children. Nothing more, nothing less,” Judge Rausch added.
After just eight months in place that $3 fee has brought more than $2.2 million.
$25 Annual Fee
There is another fee that some parents may face if they have full service cases with the Texas Attorney General. That fee is $25 annually.
On their website, the Texas Attorney General
explains why these fees are being imposed now.
Federal law requires all states to impose a $25 annual service fee on cases that involve custodial parents who have never received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The fee is imposed for each year that a parent receives at least $500 in child support. Until Sept. 30, 2011, the State of Texas paid the fee for parents. More than $25 million has been paid to the federal government to cover the annual fees. Due to the state budget deficit, the Legislature has authorized the Office of the Attorney General to collect the fee from custodial parents.
To find out more about these fees – click here.