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Clinton Signs Child Support Law

June 24, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ More than 3 million out-of-state deadbeat parents could face federal felony charges and prison time under child-support legislation signed by President Clinton Wednesday.

``One way or the other, people who don’t support their children will pay what they must,″ the president said in an Oval Office signing ceremony attended by some of the bill’s Democrat and Republican sponsors.

Clinton also announced progress in establishing the paternity in cases of children of absentee fathers, and in tracking down delinquent parents and collecting their kids’ due.

``Too many parents still walk away from that obligation,″ Clinton said. ``The quiet crisis of unpaid child support is something that our country and our families shouldn’t tolerate.″

The legislation creates two new felony categories that carry a maximum of two years in prison plus fines and restitution at the discretion of the court. Crossing state lines with the intent to evade child-support payments is now a felony for parents owing $5,000 or more, or whose payments have remained unpaid for more than a year.

Out-of-state parents owing $10,000 or more or who fail to pay for two years will also be subject to felony charges.

``We are giving police and prosecutors the tools they need to make a real impact on the practice of shirking child support,″ said Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wisc., who sponsored the bill in the Senate with Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. The legislation sailed through both the House and Senate by overwhelming margins.

Previously, crossing state lines to duck payments was a misdemeanor crime with a maximum sentence of six months.

Under a tracking system created by the 1996 welfare law, the federal government has located more than 1 million delinquent parents and alerted state officials who, in 1997, collected $13.4 billion in overdue child support by imposing wage-withholding orders or reducing unemployment benefits. That collection rate is up 68 percent from 1992, when $8 billion was collected, the administration said.

To aid in collections, state and federal child-support enforcement programs have stepped up efforts to establish paternity for children of single mothers. Last year, a record 1.3 million paternities _ 250 percent more than in 1992 _ were established through these programs, Clinton said. Many rely on in-hospital voluntary programs that encourage fathers to acknowledge paternity at the time of their child’s birth.

Although Attorney General Janet Reno opened Wednesday’s signing ceremony by expressing her commitment to the issue, the National Child Support Enforcement Association was critical of the Justice Department, noting that it had prosecuted just 386 cases _ with only 162 convictions _ since misdemeanor penalties were first created in 1992.

Reno’s statement ``will not take the place of prosecutions,″ said Casey Hoffman, president-elect of the assocation. ``For the new law to have any impact, the Justice Department will have to put people and money behind those words.″