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Child Support Clawback Prevents Dad from Helping His Kids

'I feel like I'm not allowed to be a contributor to my own family,' Roy McMurter says.

By Andrew MacLeod 23 Oct 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Roy McMurter wants the government to let his ex-wife keep the money he gives her in child support for their daughters, instead of clawing it back. 'It's my duty to support as much as I can.' Photo provided by Roy McMurter.

Roy McMurter said a British Columbia government policy is preventing him from contributing fully to the well-being of his two daughters.

"I feel like I'm not allowed to be a contributor to my own family," said McMurter, a 44-year-old from Victoria whose children live in Surrey with their mother. "Now we're both being marginalized as parents trying to help their kids."

McMurter and his ex-wife separated about five years ago. He has a truck-driving job hauling construction equipment and contributes $750 a month in child support.

However, his ex-wife receives disability assistance from the provincial government, so the ministry claws back any support he provides to her, dollar for dollar. If she earned the amount of money he sends by working herself, she could keep up to $800 a month without it affecting her cheque.

The older daughter in the family lives with several disabilities and requires much care, McMurter said. "It calls for a lot of attention," he said. "It calls for a lot of one-on-one."

He said his ex-wife has worked hard to be able to look after their daughter. "It's my duty to support as much as I can as well," he said. "I've been pretty consistent about ensuring that I'm the best I can be to my children as a father."

Keeping the money he gives them would make a big difference to his children, said McMurter. "It would mean clothes, as simple as that. Shoes." As things are, the mother and two daughters live very sparely, splitting small portions of meat three ways, and can't afford to go anywhere, he said. "They go without."

The province's clawback policy sends the message that if you're poor, you don't matter, he said.

Change unaffordable: minister

Michelle Mungall, the B.C. NDP's critic for social development, raised McMurter's situation in the legislature during Wednesday's Question Period. "Mr. McMurter wants his money to go to his children," she said. "That's what the money is for."

Don McRae, the social development minister, acknowledged many people face challenges but said that income assistance is intended to be the payment of last resort.

The government is working to create jobs and grow the economy by doing things like promoting the export of natural gas, McRae said.

The minister said he is always looking for ways to reform policies, but added, "I'm not going to bring in a policy that we cannot afford at this time."

In the past, the NDP has said that changing the policy would cost about $17 million a year, a figure that was similar to the government's own estimate. The provincial operating budget is in the order of $45 billion a year, or about 2,600 times the amount required for the policy change.

"I'm grateful families are coming forward and showing how this policy impacts their lives," Mungall said after Question Period. The government is beginning to take notice, she said.

As part of a recent public consultation on disabilities, the government committed to consulting further on changing the clawback policy, but has yet to provide any details, Mungall said.

Last week, three single mothers, their children and the Single Mothers' Alliance of B.C. Society filed a legal challenge to the policy in provincial Supreme Court arguing it's unfair to take back money that's intended to help children.  [Tyee]

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