Payments Related to Disaster Relief Activities or Efforts
POLICY INTERPRETATION QUESTIONS
DATE: February 13, 2006
ATTACHMENT: TREASURY OFFSET PROGRAM - Payments Exempt from Offset by Disbursing Officials
TO: State IV-D Directors
FROM: Margot Bean Commissioner Office of Child Support Enforcement
SUBJECT: Payments Related to Disaster Relief Activities or Efforts
Last year’s active hurricane season has generated some questions about what disaster related payments may be offset and/or withheld for purposes of child support enforcement. As discussed below, while Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief payments are not available for offset, we have identified two types of payments that may be available for withholding/garnishment. These payments include disaster unemployment assistance in accordance with 45 CFR 302.65 and hazardous duty payments in accordance with 5 CFR 581.103.
FEMA Hurricane Disaster Relief Payments
QUESTION: May FEMA disaster relief payments made to a noncustodial parent be offset to collect a delinquent child support debt?
RESPONSE: No. Virtually all payments made by FEMA for disaster relief and emergency assistance are exempt from offset by action of the Secretary of the Treasury. The list of exempt payments is attached.
As you know, FEMA has been disbursing hurricane disaster relief payments to individuals affected by hurricanes such as Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Federal law requires the Department of the Treasury and other disbursing officials to offset Federal payments to collect delinquent debts owed to the United States. See 31 U.S.C. 3701 et seq. In addition, the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA), Public Law 104-134, authorizes the administrative offset of Federal payments for the purpose of collecting delinquent debts owed to States, including past-due child support enforced by States. See 31 U.S.C. 3716(h). The offset of Federal payments is done through the Financial Management Service’s (FMS) Treasury Offset Program (TOP). Certain Federal payments are statutorily exempt from offset. Other payments may be exempted from offset by the Secretary of the Treasury upon the request of the Federal agency that issues the payments. See 31 U.S.C. 3716(h)(2)(C) and 31 CFR 285.1(k).
On December 2, 1999, OCSE issued Action Transmittal OCSE-AT-99-14. The AT contained two tables of payments that are excluded from the administrative offset program. These tables are updated periodically, can be found at the FMS website at http://fms.treas.gov/debt/dmexmpt.doc and are attached. Payments made by FEMA are among those payments that are exempt from offset.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance
QUESTION: May Disaster Unemployment Assistance payments be withheld to satisfy child support owed and being enforced by the IV-D agency?
RESPONSE: Yes, as long as the IV-D agency meets the requirements specified in 45 CFR 302.65.
The Disaster Unemployment Assistance program provides financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of a major disaster declared by the President of the United States. Before an individual can be determined eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, it must be established that the individual is not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits under any State or Federal law. The Disaster Unemployment Assistance program is administered by States as agents of the Federal Government. Regulations governing this program are at 20 CFR Part 625.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance is available to individuals for weeks of unemployment starting after the date the major disaster began for up to 26 weeks after the major disaster was declared by the President, as long as their unemployment continues to be a result of the major disaster. The maximum weekly benefit amount is determined under the provision of the State law for unemployment insurance in the State where the disaster occurred.
Federal child support regulations at 45 CFR 302.65 set forth the requirements for the withholding of unemployment compensation payments. Unemployment compensation is defined in that section as any compensation payable under State unemployment compensation law (including amounts payable in accordance with agreements under any Federal unemployment compensation). It includes, among other things, disaster unemployment assistance.
Section 302.65(b) requires the State IV-D agency to have a written agreement with the State employment security agency. Section 302.65(c) requires the State to establish and use written criteria for selecting cases to pursue for support collection via the withholding of unemployment compensation. The regulations at 45 CFR 302.65(c)(2) require IV-D agencies to enforce unmet support obligations by obtaining an agreement with the individual to have a specified amount of support withheld from unemployment compensation otherwise due the individual or, in the absence of an agreement, by bringing legal process to require the withholding.
Accordingly, if the IV-D agency pursues cases which meet the specific case selection criteria established by the State pursuant to 45 CFR 302.65(c)(3) and the payments made as a result of Disaster Unemployment Assistance are within the parameters of the case selection criteria established by the State, the payments may be withheld for unmet child support obligations.
Hazardous Duty Payments Made to Federal Civilian Employees
QUESTION: May hazardous duty payments made to Federal civilian employees be garnished for child support enforcement?
RESPONSE: Yes. Hazardous duty payments for the personal service of a Federal civilian employee obligor may be garnished to satisfy child support obligations.
The regulations at 5 CFR Part 581 implement the procedures for the processing of garnishments for child support and/or alimony for Federal Government employees and members of the uniformed services of the United States. Section 581.103(a)(8) specifically provides that hazardous duty pay is subject to garnishment.
As a result of search and recovery efforts from hurricanes such as Katrina, Rita and Wilma, there may be Federal civilian employees who are deployed to disaster-affected areas. Some of these employees may be deployed to areas to perform duties that may cause them to be exposed to hazardous agents. If the agency which employs them authorizes hazardous pay differentials, those payments may be garnished for child support purposes.
Inquiries should be directed to the appropriate ACF Regional Offices.
cc: Tribal IV-D Directors
ACF Regional Administrators
ACF CSE Regional Program Managers