LOWELL — To date, tens of millions of Americans have been cut a check from the federal government to use as they see fit during the coronavirus outbreak currently ravaging the U.S. economy.
However, according to the IRS, there is an exception to those who would otherwise qualify to receive an economic impact payment check, including Lowell resident Jerry Okeefe. Instead, the 63-year-old former construction worker’s payment will be redirected to his mountain of back child support debt.
The $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in March, intended to help businesses, workers and a health care system staggered by the coronavirus.
As part of the bill, those with an adjusted gross income up to $75,000 have received — or will receive — a $1,200 economic impact payment. Married couples filing taxes jointly who earn under $150,000 receive $2,400, while parents get $500 for each qualifying child.
The payment steadily declines the more people make and phases out for individuals who earn more than $99,000 and for married couples who earn more than $198,000.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service — an independent organization within the IRS — announced on April 29 that the IRS had issued 122 million economic impact payments for a total of $207 billion.
Receiving $10,800 a year through Social Security, Okeefe’s anticipated check of $1,200 couldn’t come fast enough. However, due to the more than $100,000 he owes in child support, Okeefe will not be among the 150 million people the IRS says will receive economic impact payments.
“I don’t get it,” Okeefe said. “This is supposed to be a gift from the government that’s to help everyone during this crisis.”
An explanation of Okeefe’s problem can be found at the Economic Impact Payment Information Center, located on the IRS website. For those who owe taxes, have a payment agreement with the IRS, or owe other state or federal debts, the stimulus payment will not be reduced. However, the IRS website states the government will seize an economic impact payment from those who are delinquent on child support payments. The payment is then used to offset the child support owed.
Okeefe said the majority of the more than $100,000 he owes in child support includes late fees and interest that have accumulated through the years. Okeefe has four children, with the oldest now in his 30s and his youngest turning 21 in March.
Okeefe said he receives about $840 a month through Social Security. Of that total, about $500 goes to child support, he said.
“I can understand if you are not paying one penny at all toward child support why they would take the check, but in my situation, I’m paying every month, probably for the rest of my life,” Okeefe said. “Just because guys or women owe back child support, does that mean we can get through this pandemic easier than everyone else? It doesn’t make sense.”
A Lowell woman, who wished to remain anonymous, is in a similar situation as Okeefe. Expecting a $1,200 economic impact payment, the woman instead was notified by a letter from the Department of the Treasury that the entirety of the payout went to the more than $3,000 she owed in back child support.
The woman said she works in housekeeping and maintenance at a local nursing home and does not receive paid sick time. She is charged a late fee for her back child support and has a child support payment taken out of each paycheck she receives.
“I live paycheck to paycheck and I break even all the time,” the Lowell resident said. “It would have been nice to have a cushion.”
U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, who voted in favor of the coronavirus rescue package, denied comment on the diversion of economic impact payments to child support debt.
In the meantime, a second coronavirus aid bill is in the works.
Trahan’s office issued a press release late last month stating the congresswoman voted to send a second $484 billion relief package to the president’s desk to be signed into law. The bill would include additional support for working families, including extended unemployment benefits and additional direct cash payments.
Okeefe hopes any future relief package takes into account his need for financial assistance.
“How can you say we’re all in this together when something like this happens?” he said. “Are we even in it together?”
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis