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MAINE MAKES GOOD ON THREATS TO LIFT DEADBEAT PARENTS’ LICENSES

SHARE MAINE MAKES GOOD ON THREATS TO LIFT DEADBEAT PARENTS’ LICENSES

Not one can say he wasn't warned.

Maine made good Monday on repeated threats to yank the driver's licenses of parents who refuse to pay overdue child support, revoking driving privileges for eight fathers who together owe their kids more than $140,000.A ninth man who was to lose his license quickly made arrangements to pay the $11,410 he owed, said Human Services Commissioner Jane Sheehan.

More licenses will be lifted, some as early as the end of this week.

Since the Legislature authorized the Family Financial Responsibility Act a year ago, the department has sent notices to roughly 20,000 parents who are at least 90 days behind in child support.

The threat has yielded the state $11.5 million in back payments, said Sheehan.

"We have had people come in and give us as much as $19,000" since the warnings first went out, said Sheehan.

Gov. John R. McKernan proposed the pinch on delinquent parents when he realized Maine was paying millions in state aid to families made destitute by the parents' failure to pay support. These so-called "deadbeat dads" - fathers in 97 percent of the cases, mothers in 3 percent - were walking out on $150 million in support payments every year.

Besides driver's licenses, the state can also lift the licenses of doctors, lawyers, architects, plumbers, electricians, commercial fishermen and other professionals who fail to pay child support.

There's no priority for lifting either kind of license, said Peter Gore, a spokesman for Human Services.

"If someone has a driver's and professional license," he said, "we'll go after both of them."

The licenses were targeted because the state had no other way of penalizing many of the delinquent parents, who are not enrolled in public assistance programs and frequently have no jobs on which they report income to the state, Gore said.

Maine's stringent steps to collect the money attracted the attention of President Clinton. The $9.3 billion welfare reform proposal he sent to Congress last week includes a requirement that all states take similar action against parents with mounting child support debts.

In Maine, however, one licensing territory is sacrosanct: The state cannot strip residents of their hunting or fishing licenses.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Family Financial Responsibility Act

When Maine identified 20,000 parents who were behind in child support, the Legislature responded with the Family Financial Responsibility Act. Parents who are at least 90 days behind in their child support payments will face revocation of their driver's and professional licenses.

The plan could reduce welfare expenditures by several million dollars

What it does

- The law authorizes the state to revoke driving and professional licenses of parents who refuse to pay child support debts. It enables the state to catch up with people it cannot track because they are not enrolled in any assistance program and have no job in which they are reporting income.

- So far, 9,401 people have paid $11.5 million in child support debts.

- Initially the state identified 20,000 parents who were behind in child support. About $150 million in child support a year goes uncollected.

PAID OWE

9,401 $11.5 million 10,590 $138.5 million