- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Amnesty offers yesterday lured waves of parents behind in their child-support payments to area enforcement offices accustomed to dealing with only a trickle.
By making payments and arrangements for future child support, they avoided arrest warrants and a possible trip to jail.
Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia joined together to offer what is believed to be the first multistate amnesty program in the nation.
"We had a lot of people come in over 100," said Philip Browning, director of the Child Support Division for the District.
"It has been greater than prior amnesties" offered on a local basis, said Denise Hall, legal manager of the Prince George's County (Md.) Office of Child Enforcement.
In Montgomery County, Md., 13 men and one woman talked with case workers about how to begin catching up on what they owe to help support their children.
"Typically, if we get one [person] a week, that's a lot," said Brian Shea, director of child-support enforcement in Montgomery County.
Virginia officials were not surprised at the results of the first day of the amnesty program because they have collected more than $113.6 million from 41,952 delinquent parents since their "Kids First" program began in 1997, according to Marian Davis-Johnson, spokeswoman for Child Support Enforcement.
The Amnesty 2000 program in Maryland and the District will run through Friday. It is the first statewide amnesty for Maryland.
In Maryland, about 120,000 parents are in arrears, said Teresa Kaiser, executive director of Maryland's Child Support Enforcement Agency. That's one-third of the parents owing an average of $6,800 ordered to pay child support. Officials said nearly $1 billion in child support is owed.
Prince George's has one of the largest child-support caseloads in Maryland, with between 65,000 and 69,000 cases. Without amnesty, it is "rare" to have those parents come in, Ms. Hall said.
Prince George's enforcement officials interviewed 59 individuals seeking amnesty in exchange for making back payments yesterday and quashed 13 outstanding warrants related to those cases, Ms. Hall said.
In the District, Mr. Browning explained that bench warrants had been issued for the arrest of deadbeat parents owing much of the $6.7 million in unpaid child support. The bench warrants will be quashed for parents who make a reasonable payment and arrangements to catch up on their child-support debts.
"We didn't collect as much as we would like. We collected $3,000, but it was money we did not have," Mr. Browning said.
Mr. Browning said he hopes more parents will head off their arrests by coming into the central child-support offices at 441 Fourth St. NW to make payments during the rest of the week.
One father seeking amnesty in Montgomery County said he fell behind after he went back to school for computer training because what he earned as a case manager for the Department of Social Services in Baltimore wasn't enough to support his seven children.
"I was about to be subpoenaed to court when I heard about the amnesty deal," said the man, who did not want his name used.
He said he is now working as a telecommunications analyst for a company in Virginia. And he made an agreement yesterday that will send $740 per month from his new salary to three women who are the mothers of three children who do not live with him.
Until the $2,700 he owes in back payments has been paid off, he has agreed to send an extra $50 each month.
Offices in 21 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions are extending their hours this week. Some Saturday hours will be added in Anne Arundel County as well as some counties on the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, said Erlene Wilson, spokeswoman for Maryland's Department of Human Resources.
Publicity, public-service announcements and 10,000 letters sent to fathers and mothers behind in their obligations helped get the word out, Ms. Wilson said.
The state also will offer to connect troubled parents to other state services, such as those helping the unemployed find work or facilitating treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.
Among those who turned out to settle up their debts in Rockville yesterday were a barber, a self-employed roofer, a security guard and employees of a "major grocery chain" and a sprinkler company, Mr. Shea said.
Although less than $500 was collected from that group on the spot, officials hope they will catch up and that payments will become regular.
Employment has been sporadic for many of the parents who appeared to take advantage of the amnesty offer, Mr. Shea said.
"The waiting room was full after lunch. That's a good sign. It means they are working," Mr. Shea said.
According to state statistics, the average noncustodial parent in Maryland is a man with one or two children and a monthly support payment of $318.
A national "new hire" registry to which employers are required to report new employees within 20 days makes it easier to track non-custodial parents with support obligations.
And a national law that places a lien on the salary of anyone ordered to pay support has made collecting easier, but not foolproof, when noncustodial parents move, change jobs, are self-employed or work for someone who doesn't report their employment.

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