Tom is a 32-year-old father of two. Although he is required to pay child support, he recently lost his low-paying job, and has fallen behind in his payments.
David, also 32, is divorced with four children. Unlike Tom, David has a good job, but brushes aside his obligation to pay support to his family.
In this country, nearly one in three children grows up without a father, and is five times more likely to live in poverty than a child in a two-parent family. Child support is an important component in helping lift these children out of poverty, and is critical to supporting their healthy development.
As part of the administration's budget proposal, the President has included a major new initiative aimed at helping these children. His plan is tough on "deadbeat" parents like David who can afford to pay; helps "deadbroke" parents like Tom who are struggling to do the right thing; and ensures that more child support money goes directly to families.
By, among other tactics, booting cars, denying passports to parents like David who have evaded paying what they owe, and barring doctors who owe child support from becoming Medicare participants, the government, over the next five years, will be able to collect nearly $2 billion. This money belongs to our children.
For parents like Tom who want to meet their obligations to their children, but are unable to afford them, the budget includes a component called Fathers Work/Families Win that will help approximately 40,000 low-income, non-custodial parents (the vast majority of whom are fathers), work, pay child support, and reconnect with their children.
The budget will also help about 40,000 low-income, working families -- whether two-parent or single-parent, married or single -- by providing funds to participate in job training aimed at upgrading their skills or retaining their jobs. It will also help them gain access to critical work supports such as child care, health care, food stamps, housing and transportation.
Most fathers like Tom want to work, but frequently find themselves working only intermittently. As a result, their incomes are low, and they have never participated in employment-support programs. But there is encouraging evidence from places such as Tampa Bay, Fla., where court-ordered employment, with resources to help fathers go to work, is paying off. Tampa Bay's program generates $4 in child-support collections for every $1 invested. Participating fathers are working at above-minimum-wage jobs, paying more child support, and becoming more involved with their children. Employers are satisfied, and find the men to be highly motivated workers.
The third component of the administration's plan ensures that a larger proportion of child support goes directly to families. Current rules often result in government, not families, keeping funds paid by the father. But under this plan, states will be able to simplify distribution rules, and provide incentives to states to pass more support payments directly through to families -- thus, creating a clearer connection between what a father pays and what his family gets, and giving parents more reason to cooperate with the child-support system.
This administration has made child support enforcement a top priority -- a priority that is paying off for children across America. Since the President took office, child support collections have nearly doubled -- from $8 billion in 1992 to an estimated $15.5 billion last year. New figures show that a record $1.3 billion of these collections came from seizing federal income tax refunds for tax year 1998 -- again almost doubling the amount collected in the prior six years.
I have spent my adult career working to strengthen families and help them better balance their responsibilities at home and at work. The President, the Vice President and I have fought for families that work hard and play by the rules. They should not go without necessities such as health care, food or child care.
Likewise, we have worked for many years to strengthen the role of fathers in their children's lives. All parents, whether they live with their children or not, should be providing the emotional and financial support their children deserve. These proposals will help make that happen.
Since we first asked mothers to move from welfare to work, millions of families have made the transition from dependency to dignity. While many single mothers are doing a tremendous job of working and raising their children, they should not have to do it alone. It is up to Congress to pass these proposals, so that more fathers can share the responsibility of supporting their families, and so that every child has a chance to find the love and support of two parents.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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