What can’t the Alabama Department of Human Resources seize for payment of past due child support? Not much, though some public benefits like supplemental security income are exempt. An Alabama court was recently asked to determined if another public benefit, veterans disability benefits, can be seized for past due child support. They can.
A number of public benefits are not subject to garnishment by debt collectors. However, the state of Alabama has vast power to collect funds for child support in ways that private debt collectors cannot. Not only can Alabama garnish wages and accounts, it can intercept tax returns garnish some public benefits – and in the opinion of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, that power extends to veterans benefits for service disabilities.
The appellant in Holmes v. Alabama Department of Human Resources is a navy veteran who in 2017 received a determination from the Veterans Administration that he had been disabled since 2010. As a result, he was entitled to a significant arrearage of disability benefits in the tens of thousands of dollars. The Alabama Department of Human Resources sought to seize that arrearage and the veteran appealed. His contention was state’s ability to seize public benefits was limited to situations where the benefits were “based on renumeration for employment.”
The veteran’s contention that Alabama could only seize benefits that were tied to employment was solidly based on federal statute. The Court of Civil Appeals sidestepped the veteran’s argument by focusing on the purpose behind veterans benefits – which is to provide adequate compensation for veterans and their families – with particular emphasis on the “and their families.”
The Court then distinguished veterans benefits from supplemental security income which cannot be seized for child support. According to the court, supplemental security income is different because it’s purpose is to provide a subsistence allowance needs tested people. In the end, the state’s seizure of the veterans benefits to satisfy child support was upheld.