- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

Child-support advocates such as Geraldine Jensen can’t wait for Congress to pass the Welfare Reform bill, which is expected to contain stronger child-support collection initiatives.

The House as well as Senate chambers are paving the way to pass a sweeping welfare bill that would call for an increase in child-care spending and stringent child-support programs. The legislators are amending and reauthorizing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

“The child-support provisions of these bills do more for poor people than any other section. … I mean, we’re talking about $1 billion a year going into the hands of those families who need it the most,” said Ms. Jensen, president of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support (ACES) in Maumee, Ohio.

The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill earlier this month and is hopeful that it will hit the chamber’s floor next month. Included in that bill are provisions that would fund child-support collection through such ways as intercepting gambling winnings to pay debts.

This measure, which would affect after-tax payouts from casinos, horse racing, dog racing, sweepstakes, lotteries and other kinds of gambling, is expected to add $709 million to child-support collections over five years.

The House passed a similar bill in February. Both bills also would deny passports to parents who owe $2,500 or more in child support and require states to review child-support orders every three years so that ones that are too low or too high can be modified.

The bills also make it easier for states to give poor families most or all the child support they collect for them. This new “pass-through” authority could provide $280 million to families on welfare and $810 million to former welfare families over five years, said the House Ways and Means Committee.

The House bill has a measure that ACES opposes — a $25-a-year fee to collect child support for families who have never gone on welfare. A similar section in the Senate bill was dropped, Ms. Jensen said.

One aspect of the Senate bill not included in the House measure, she said, and that ACES would like to see in the final authorization bill is a requirement that states report the amount of child-support payments they have collected but not distributed to families.

ACES believes states had $657 million in collected but undistributed child-support payments as of the end of last year.

“Getting a report [on undistributed collections] is very significant,” Ms. Jensen said. “As much as families have been beating on [state] doors saying, ‘You’re withholding my child-support payments,’ they’ve been ignoring the families. We think they’re going to have a much harder time ignoring Congress,” she said.

Other proposed child-support measures would allow the following:

• Internal Revenue Service interception of tax refunds to pay support owed for children who are now adults.

• Garnishment of veterans disability pay and longshoreman and harbor worker compensations for overdue child support.

• New access to insurance settlements and funds in accounts held by multistate financial institutions for overdue support.

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