by Jessica Braun
New passport requirements have complicated travel this summer, but they have also uncovered many deadbeat parents. Millions of travelers now need passports to fly back from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and South America, but the State Department denies passports to non-custodial parents who owe more than $2,500 in child support. Once a parent makes good on the debt, or pays it down to the threshold, they can reapply for a passport. In all, states have reported collecting at least $22.5 million through the program so far in 2007. The money is then forwarded to the parent to whom it is owed. Also contributing to the increased collections was a drop in the threshold for reporting child support debt to the State Department from $5,000 to $2,500.
In Louisiana, 116 passports were released last fiscal year and 20 so far this year, based upon payment of child support debt to an amount below the threshold. For example, in March, a payment of $4,200 was received so the parent could travel to the Bahamas (his new wife won a trip for two). In April, a payment of $11,300 was received so a parent could obtain a job requiring a passport; and in May, a payment of $29,699.36 was received so the parent could travel to Mexico. Therefore, this has proven to be a very effective collection tool for overdue child support. The state may also garnish wages, seize state and federal income tax refunds, and deduct delinquent payments from lottery and gaming winnings. Travelers beware, because another jump in collections is expected next year when the new passports requirements will likely take effect for land and sea travelers too.