Scofflaw Dads Will Pay Support Or Lose Licenses
The autumn hunt. It reigns as an inviolable ritual for millions of sportsmen from the fir-cloaked Rockies to the marshes of Delaware.Skip to next paragraph
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But under the new federal welfare code that goes into effect tomorrow, parents who refuse to honor another societal tradition - making child support payments - could find themselves denied the hallowed privilege to hunt and fish.
While this provision represents a tiny, obscure component of the sweeping welfare reform package passed by the Republican-controlled Congress this summer and signed into law by a Democratic president, it signals a rare political agreement on matters of domestic social policy.
In the 1990s, getting tough on scofflaw parents has become a patriotic, bipartisan strategy to help reduce the number of children on public assistance and repair the tattered financial condition of the single-parent households, which make up a growing portion of American families.
"I think the child support provisions are a very positive step in a bill that otherwise is a stampede to hurt children," claims Nancy Ebb, a staff attorney with the Children's Defense Fund in Washington. "Where such regulations have already been implemented the threat of revoking licenses has worked with extraordinary effectiveness."
How governments comply with the mandates is a question that most legislatures will take up when they convene early in 1997.
Nowhere will the tone of discussions be more spirited than in the rural West and Midwest, two regions that hold up hunting and fishing as sacred birthrights.
"It's going to be a hot-button issue," predicts state Sen. Charles Scott, a high plains rancher who serves as chairman of the Wyoming Senate Committee on Labor, Health, and Social Services.
According to the CDF and the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 18.3 million child support case files were handled by states in 1994 (representing tens of millions of children), yet only one-fourth of the clients received full support.
From 1990 to 1994, the amount of child support collected nationwide rose from $6 billion to $10 billion - a full two-thirds increase based largely upon progressive action taken by a handful of states.
Still, the jump is considered modest. Half of all parents owing child support in the US fail to meet their obligation or pay nothing, creating not only a hardship for dependent kids but a multibillion-dollar drain on tax dollars.
"The problem of nonpayment of child support exists in every neighborhood's backyard," notes Ms. Ebb. "It cuts across class, race, and income, and it's devastating for children.
Many states already have resorted to garnishing wages, suspending driver's licenses, and withholding business licenses as ways of pressuring child support scofflaws into paying up.
Revoking recreational licenses is seen as an aggressive next step because it strikes where offenders are likely to feel the pressure: in their cherished leisure activities.
"How will it be implemented? We don't know the answer to that yet," says Laura Kadwell, director of the child enforcement division in the Minnesota Department of Human Services. "The object is not to make the administration of this so complex as to destroy the essence."