SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Federal data show that South Dakota’s unpaid child support grew by about $50 million over five years, to more than $190 million.

The state’s unpaid child support rose by nearly 32 percent between 2012 and 2016, the largest increase in the nation during that period, the Argus Leader reported . The amount of money owed in back child support, also known as arrearages, only increased by less than 2 percent nationally.

Larissa Bell took a second job working at a hotel in order to make ends meet. Bell wouldn’t need the second job if the father of her child had paid child support. Bell said she should have received more than $15,000 in back child support.

“When I filed for child support, I was told South Dakota was the number one state for getting child support,” Bell said. “If we were the number one state, why didn’t I get it in the first place?”

South Dakota’s child enforcement unit within the Department of Social Services has been recognized as one of the most efficient nationally for over a decade. But federal performance measurements don’t take into account the total of back child support that has accumulated for each state.

Gail Stoltenburg is director of the state’s child support program. Stoltenburg said caseloads have increased, which ultimately results in more cases. Stoltenburg also said a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision complicated child support collections by requiring proof of the ability to pay before an individual can be jailed.

Chirs McClure served as a staff attorney at the state’s social services department for five years. McClure said the arrearages have risen dramatically due in part to South Dakota’s decision not to reduce minimum child support payments from parents who were unemployed or in jail until recently.

“All the other states moved quicker to change their laws,” he said. The number of arrearages piled up for South Dakota parents who might not have owed as much in other states.

Voters also approved a minimum wage boost in 2014, which drove minimum child support payments for non-custodial parents up from $216 per month to $300 per month.

“That’s a significant increase — especially for people who aren’t working,” McClure said.

Information from: Argus Leader,

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