Deadbeat parents line up to pay child support during ‘amnesty’

Collecting child support can be like pulling teeth.

Patients usually don’t line up at the dentist’s office to volunteer for that procedure. And parents who owe child support don’t often form a queue to pay up at the Clark County district attorney’s office — at least they didn’t until last week.

“A line was already out the door when we opened Saturday,” said Teresa Lowry, who heads the Family Support Division of the district attorney’s office. “When we closed the door at 3 p.m., the lobby was still jammed.”

More than 900 parents in the red on child support handed over an estimated $200,000 at the office from Monday to Saturday.

Their motivation?

It was “amnesty week,” the second time the district attorney’s office has offered pardons to parents in arrears.

Here’s the deal: Make a “meaningful, good-faith payment,” and the office will absolve penalties for being delinquent. These include placing liens on property, issuing a bench warrant for arrest, and suspending passports and driver’s licenses.

And all back payments didn’t have to be met. Parents just needed to convince officials that they’re paying what they can, Lowry said.

“We’re reaching out far more than in the past,” she said, adding that parents have fallen on hard times. In July, Las Vegas unemployment reached 14 percent.

The message isn’t that unemployed parents won’t be expected to pay, Lowry said. The office can deduct child support from unemployment checks. But even those are running dry, she said.

“Stay in touch with us. Don’t run from us. We want to work with you,” Lowry said, adding that monthly payments can be decreased if a parent is in dire straits. “We need people to be paying something every single month.”

That’s because more and more Clark County children are living in poverty. According to Clark County School District records, a record percentage of students received free or reduced lunches in 2010-11.

About 55 percent of students in kinder­garten through high school used the lunch program — qualification is based on family income — at the end of last school year, said school district dietician Virginia Beck. That equated to 169,500 students in the country’s fifth-largest school district.

“This is the highest it’s been, ever,” Beck said. One-third of Clark County students received free or reduced lunches in 2003-04.

The record is expected to be broken again this school year, Beck said.

“More than likely, it will be higher because the economy isn’t improving,” she said.

The beginning of the school year, on Monday for Clark County public schools, is the reason amnesty was offered last week, Lowry said.

Children need money for school supplies, new clothes and school lunches, she said.

The first time the district attorney’s office offered child support amnesty was during the 2009 holiday season, a week dubbed Home for the Holidays. About $100,000 was collected in delinquent payments, half of the conservative estimate for last week, Lowry said.

The office is always fighting some parents for delinquent payments, but the battle has become harder. About half of the Family Support Division’s 74,000 cases are in some state of delinquency. About $150 million is owed in child support this fiscal year, but only $73 million has been distributed.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at
tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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