Reporting Ron Jones
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A debt demand from the state is raising eyebrows. At issue: the state has been recouping overpayments it made to welfare recipients, but officials are going after their kids to get those paybacks.
The law is pretty simple — if a parent is overpaid welfare benefits and they didn’t report it or the state made a bookeeping mistake, the children are required to repay it.
“We think it’s absolutely outrageous,” said Mark Hedlund in Sen. Darrell Steinberg’s office. “It’s wrong and we don’t think it’s legal either. We were appalled by this.”
CBS13 has learned that the Department of Social Services has an active policy on the books that if the state overpays a parent’s welfare benefits and that parent can’t repay it, then when their children are old enough to work, they’ll be required to do make those payments.
“So essentially the children were being held for the debts of their parents,” Hedlund said.
It’s legislation that was aproved by lawmakers years ago.
“We think they wrongly interpreted the law,” said legislative policy advocate Michael Herald.
The Western Center on Law and Poverty, an advocacy group for disadvantaged people, is now suing the state.
They say hundreds if not thousands of these children entering the work force are having their wages garnished, tax returns taken or seeing a reduction in Calworks benefits.
“It’s like being born in a debtor prison or something,” Herald said. “No one thought they would go after the children. Some of them were not even born when these debts were incurred.”
The lawsuit seeks to stop Social Services from collecting these types of repayments.
“And we’re also going to ask for any money taken under this policy that had to be paid by a child is returned to the child,” Herald said.
Steinberg’s office is also asking the governor to intervene.
“If the governor does not intervene or does not think he can intervene without legislation, we are prepared to provide that legislation,” Hedlund said.
Right now it’s hard to put a dollar amount on how much the state could end up paying back the children if the lawsuit is successful.
CBS13 put in a request to speak with Social Services officials about the policy but didn’t get a call back.