Puyallup

'It's absolutely devastating and frustrating'

A single mother of five says the Social Security Administration made a mistake that cost her $22,000.

That money was supposed to help pay for child support. Instead, it went into the pocket of a man many would call a deadbeat dad.

The $22,000 was critical to Paula Harmes-Bowser and her family, who are owed nearly a quarter million dollars in child support back pay.

"It's absolutely devastating and frustrating, and I don't understand how a government agency cannot correct their mistakes," Harmes-Bowser said.

Harmes-Bowser says the costly mistake robbed her of child support for her daughter, Jelena. She insists the feds were supposed to split a disability check worth $44,000 between her and her daughter's dad. State child support orders entitle Harmes-Bowser to half of his earnings.

But instead of paying her, Harmes-Bowser says the feds gave all the money to her daughter's father.

When Harmes-Bowser couldn't get the money back, she called KOMO's Problem Solvers.

"I appreciate you helping me have a voice here. The one thing every human wants to have is a voice and they want justice," she said.

Harmes-Bowser, on her own with five children, has struggled financially for 10 years. The $22,000 is just a fraction of what she's owed in child support.

With Harmes-Bowser's permission, the state agreed to give KOMO News access to her child support file.

"As of today, she's is owed just under $250,000 in back support," said Adolfo Capestany of the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Harmes-Bowser says she and her children have survived financially on "a wing and a prayer."

"I have no idea," she said.

"It's frustrating, because we aren't able to assist someone who is counting on us for child support," Capestany said.

Capestany says he did his part; he sent social security a garnishment order.

"They acknowledge that a mistake was made here," he said. But when KOMO News contacted social security, the officials admitted nothing.

"They acknowledged that they didn't put it in place and beyond that, we're not going to speculate why it didn't happen," said Capestany.

Social security wouldn't discuss specifics, but said in general, once a disability claim is paid, its hands are tied.

"The child support orders should be worth something," said Harmes-Bowser. But for this single mom, they're worthless.

DSHS says it'll do everything it can to help this family, adding Harmes-Bowser's situation is unusual.

The agency said it successfully collects about $1.2 million in social security payments for child support every month.