Maryland government officials are fessing up to mistakenly withholding tax refunds for back child support — but for parents whose accounts are up to date.

Calls started coming in to the state Department of Human Services in recent weeks as residents began filing their tax returns. Instead of receiving their refunds promptly, the callers told the department their refunds were blocked for child support, even though they made their payments.

Rafael J. López, the state’s new secretary of human services, revealed the error to state lawmakers during a budget hearing in Annapolis on Thursday.

He said it’s not yet clear if the issue is a glitch affecting a relatively small number of parents or a pervasive problem. Nearly 400 recent calls to the Department of Human Services call center have involved issues with tax returns.

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“We are hoping it is not thousands of people, that it’s hundreds,” López told lawmakers.

The government regularly intercepts tax refunds of parents who are behind on child support, and the money is used toward bringing the parents’ accounts into compliance. The practice is in place in most states, López said.

López said an investigation is underway to determine the cause and scope of the problem.

One possibility, López said, is that the problem was caused when the online infrastructure for the child support system was moved from an old network to the state’s MDTHINK platform in late 2022.

There also could be an error on the part of the federal government or elsewhere in state government, López said.

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For now, Department of Human Services employees are handling the problems on a case-by-case basis and working to get the tax refunds back in parents’ bank accounts, López said.

“We want to be super transparent about the error because we want to take responsibility for it and make families whole,” López told members of the House of Delegates Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Social Services.

Lawmakers didn’t have any questions, but the subcommittee chair, Del. Kirill Reznik, a Montgomery County Democrat, said: “We hope you can get it cleaned up quickly and fairly.”

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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