How to Energize `Deadbeat Parents'

UNFORTUNATELY, deadbeat parents need strong compulsion before they will fulfill their financial obligations to their children.

Legislation I introduced that became law in January 1993, has made a good start in reducing the number of noncustodial parents who refuse to pay their child support but have no problem incurring debt to buy cars, trucks, snowmobiles, and even second homes.

The bill, the ``Child Support Enforcement Act of 1992,'' requires credit agencies to include on credit reports child support delinquencies of more than $1,000 (in states which provide them that information).

This legislation offers a practical and effective means to begin reclaiming the $27 billion in child support payments that go unpaid each year. More than 5.7 million noncustodial parents make no payment on their child support obligations. The result is inadequate care for millions of children and increased welfare expenses for the rest of us.

The theory behind my bill was that it would be most effective to concentrate on those parents who actually have financial resources, rather than wasting taxpayers' dollars for fruitless statewide searches. This might not lead to the collection of every delinquent penny, but it was a good place to start.

The results have proved my theory correct. A recent report by the Associated Credit Bureau Inc. indicated the number of delinquent parents on credit reports has increased from 1.5 million to 2 million. This means one-half million more parents will have to be responsible for their children's care before they can consider buying a new boat, car, or house.

For example, in July a man from Twin Falls, Idaho, requested a loan from a finance agency to purchase a house. When the agency checked his credit, a problem was discovered - he had been making sporadic child support payments and still owed $4,700. Three days later, the man paid the entire $4,700 to clear his report.

In another instance this year, an Idaho farmer attempted to secure an operating loan from a bank to buy seed and other materials. This time, the bank's credit check revealed an outstanding debt of $10,000 for his child's medical expenses. The farmer paid the full amount, saving Idaho taxpayers the bill.

This legislation helps Idaho lead the nation in child support collections to defray welfare expenses. In the fiscal year ending June 30, Idaho collected $44.7 million in child support, allowing it to recover one-third of total expenses for the welfare program Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

The success of this enforcement method is not exclusive to our state. In 1992-93, Washington state reported increases in child support collections just months after notifying parents that their child support delinquencies would be reported to credit bureaus.

In a report issued this summer, the United States General Accounting Office wrote, ``comments of state and credit grantor officials suggest that routine reporting is having a positive [child support] enforcement impact.'' More important, the GAO added, ``the main benefits of credit bureau reporting will show up over time as creditors deny credit to delinquent noncustodial parents.''

Charles Drake, president of Children's Support Services in San Antonio, said the bill ``helped the credit bureau industry realize the need for reporting child support.''

Mr. Drake continued, ``We have had many deadbeat parents with excellent credit try to remove the child support delinquency from their credit file. In most cases, the delinquent parent is living a carefree lifestyle with many assets and the custodial parent is having problems paying the rent and utilities. We know reporting the delinquency works.''

I am proud of the practical success of my legislation. There are still millions of ``deadbeat parents'' in our country - but there are fewer than before. I plan to continue to build on this progress and ensure that our children are not shortchanged.

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