December 16, 2017

Can disability benefits be garnished to pay child support?

I am often asked if Social Security Disability Benefits can be garnished to pay child support payments. The answer of this question depends on what type of Social Security Disability benefits you are receiving.

If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the federal government does not allow these benefits to be garnished. SSI is given to lower-income individuals – those individuals such as the aged, blind, and disabled who meet certain low income and resource levels and do not qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI). The federal government funds SSI through general tax revenues so that the qualifying individuals can pay for expenses such as clothing, housing, and food. Because the federal government treats SSI as a public welfare benefit and not as income for the purposes of child support payments, they do not allow Supplemental Security Income benefits to be garnished.

On the other hand, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be garnished to pay child support payments. SSDI benefits are funded from the money you as a worker paid into the Social Security system (through employment taxes) when you were still working. The amount of SSDI benefits you get is based on how much you earned/how much you contributed into the Social Security system (via taxes). When employees become disabled and are unable to work, these SSDI payments act as a replacement of income. According to the federal government, because SSDI is considered a substitute for lost wages, it can be garnished for child support payments.

A benefit of SSDI is that children of the disabled workers that receive SSDI payments may qualify to receive SSDI benefits until a certain age as well, and these payments can be subtracted from the child support owed.

Can Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits be Garnished to Pay Past Due Child Support?

Can a custodial parent who is owed past due child support turn to Social Security to collect that child support from a disability recipient?   Yes, according to Social Security Ruling 79-4, the Social Security Administration can withhold a percentage of a claimant’s benefits in an amount equal to what SSA could withhold to pay delinquent income tax debt.

lost wagesNo interest or penalties may be withheld, and before the first withholding may commence, SSA must give the claimant 60 days notice.

The rules appear to be different when the disability benefits in question are SSI (supplemental security income) benefits.    The web site esocialsecurityappeal.com states that a “custodial parent has no right to any of the proceeds from SSI.”    Tim Moore, the editor of DisabilitySecrets.com also states that SSI recipients will not have their monthly disability benefits and past due benefits seize.  According to Mr. Moore, the rationale to protect SSI from levy relates to the nature of SSI as a welfare benefit:  “since SSI is essentially a public welfare benefit and does not derive  not from a claimant’s earnings record, SSI benefits cannot be taken for other purposes, just as food stamps and AFDC funds, likewise, cannot be seized.”