Here's What You Need to Remember: The CARES Act, passed earlier in the pandemic in 2020, had expressly banned garnishment of the stimulus checks, but no secure provision was included in the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year.
The pandemic changed things for city and state governments in many ways, with the governments expected to pay out more money than usual, while sometimes collecting less money than they typically do.
In California, the state’s Department of Child Support Services managed to collect much more money than usual in 2020 than it does most years.
According to The Californian, in 2020 “the agency kept about $430 million of the $2.8 billion it collected, sending $207 million to the state’s coffers, an increase of about 25% from the year before.” Most of the money goes to the children, but the state keeps some of it.
That’s because the state of California makes a practice of “intercepting” aid checks meant for Californians who are behind on child-support payments. In 2020, when stimulus checks went out, those were intercepted as well, although, per the Californian report, the state went on to respond with “a good-faith effort to halt garnishments on the second and third rounds of stimulus checks.”
California’s system, per the story, “intercepts child support payments from custodial parents who sign up for government aid such as CalWORKS,” and can also impose such penalties as interest and driver's license suspensions. Critics, however, say such punishments are often less likely to result in the parents paying up, especially since a driver’s license suspension is likely to make it more difficult to do work.
Whether stimulus checks can be garnished from prisoners are others convicted of crimes has been a very controversial question in the stimulus era.
The CARES Act, passed earlier in the pandemic in 2020, had expressly banned garnishment of the stimulus checks, but no secure provision was included in the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law this spring making such garnishment illegal in New York.
“All relief payments to New Yorkers under these federal acts, including stimulus payments, tax refunds, rebates, and tax credits to support individuals and children qualified for or received prior to the effective date, will be protected,” the governor’s office said in a statement at the time the bill was signed. “This legislation also creates a carve-out for claims brought by individuals who have an interest in the relief payments to ensure that these funds can be collected to pay child and spousal support and to collect payments in situations involving fraud.”
But that hasn’t been the case everywhere. In Alabama, the state began “siphoning” stimulus checks from prisoners, not long after Ashley Rich, the district attorney of Mobile County, called for such checks to be seized and given to victims of crimes.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver. This article first appeared earlier this year.