Edmonton Journal

Saturday 6 January 2001

Deadbeat parents lose energy rebates

Rick Pedersen, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal

The Alberta government has rerouted $2.25 million in cheques from its $690-million energy-rebate program to prevent the money from falling into the hands of more than 15,000 deadbeat parents.

The $150 cheques are rebates issued to most Albertans over age 16 between Nov. 27 and Nov. 30.

Before the money was sent, Alberta Maintenance Enforcement officials put claims against 15,000 cheques issued to parents behind in child-support payments, said Shannon Larkins, acting director of communications for Alberta Treasury.

The money will be used to pay child support -- usually owed to mothers -- but first the government departments involved must do three things, Larkins said:

- Canada Customs and Revenue must finish processing tax returns for Albertans who filed late. Nothing will happen until Alberta Treasury knows if more cheques will be rerouted;

- Treasury will then put the money into the Maintenance Enforcement Program account on Feb. 27;

- Maintenance Enforcement officials must identify any parents who owe less than $150, before paying the money to those owed child support.

Larkins said a father who owes $75 will get to keep half his $150 energy rebate and the mother will get the $75 she is owed.

The money will probably be mailed out in March, she said.

"The thing to stress is that if somebody has brought their account up to date in the meantime, they will be getting their $150 back," Larkins said.

Alberta Justice runs the Maintenance Enforcement Program and department spokesperson Bart Johnson said officials checked child-support debts in early November before flagging those parents in arrears.

The debts will be checked again before the second round of $150 energy-rebate cheques are sent out April 27, he said, so only parents who still owe child support will have cheques rerouted.

"I do want to emphasize this is not a case of government withholding or keeping money," Johnson said.

"It is just ensuring payments are made to families."

Colette Gentes-Hawn, spokesperson for Canada Customs and Revenue, said the federal government withholds tax refunds for every provincial government.

For example, she said tax refunds can be diverted to repay student loans, other debts to government, or money owed on child-support payments.

This is Alberta's first energy rebate but not the first time this system has been applied to tax rebates, Gentes-Hawn said.

ENERGY REBATES

- The $690-million rebate program is intended to help Albertans pay rising prices for home heating, gasoline and other energy expenses.

- Approximately two million Albertans 16 or older qualify for the $300 rebates, paid in $150 installments in November and April.