Like many organizations meant to support individuals struggling through tough times, Santa Barbara County Child Support Services has been feeling the effects of the recession, along with its beneficiaries. Carrie Topliffe, director of the county’s Support Services, pointed out that one “helpful indicator” of this nationwide effect of the recession is the percentage of payments that come out of wages, as opposed to those that come from unemployment insurance.
Topliffe laid the situation out by the numbers. Sixty-four percent of payments came from wages in fiscal year 2006-07, while only 2 percent were from unemployment insurance. Comparatively, this fiscal year has seen 63 percent coming from wages, with 5.4 percent coming from unemployment insurance. While that one percent difference seems a small change, Topliffe pointed out, it translates into $40 million less in payments from wages, while the payments from unemployment insurance has nearly tripled.
Within Santa Barbara County, Topliffe explained, in the fiscal year ending in June, $1.2 million of the payments came from unemployment insurance while $16.5 million were from wages.
While these comparisons are interesting, they are only part of picture of the general decline in the percentage of payments made.
Compared to 2004, in which 60.4 percent of payments owed to Support Services were made, four years later, the county succeeded in collecting only 55.8 percent. Ultimately, in the nine-month period ending June 30 this year, County Child Support Services was able to collect payments on 1,200 fewer cases compared to the same nine-month period in 2007.
To give an idea of what support orders are costing for people who are hard-pressed to make the payments, Topliffe said that the median payment made is $318 per month.
The cumulative support payment arrears for Santa Barbara over the year ending June 30 was $162,103,235-and the top five individuals with the most arrears owed between $264,910.72 and $427,941.02.