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N.Y. DEADBEATS NOW STAND TO LOSE THEIR DRIVERS' LICENSES

New York state will begin suspending the drivers' licenses of parents who fall more than four months behind in their child-support payments, Gov. George E. Pataki said on Sunday.

The new policy, similar to ones tried in a small but growing number of states, is designed to put some sting into an arsenal of child-support collection programs that have proved to be largely ineffective. State officials also hope that it will reduce welfare costs by pulling some families out of poverty.Courts have ordered child-support payments in 380,000 cases in New York state. In 350,000 of those cases, or 92 percent, parents are behind in payments. Together, they owe more than $1 billion, an amount that is expected to grow by $321 million in the next year, state officials estimate. In 170,000 cases, or almost half, no payments have ever been made.

"This is a staggering figure, and it cannot be permitted to continue," Pataki said in a statement on Sunday. "My message to deadbeat parents is simple: If you fail to make your child-support payments, you risk losing your driver's license."

New York is sharing in a national frustration over collecting child-support payments. Nationwide estimates say those payments are made less than 20 percent of the time.

Suspending driver's and professional licenses has emerged as the new weapon of choice in that fight. Maine, Massachusetts and California have initiated programs similar to New York's, and all have reported some level of success, New York officials say.

President Clinton has also advocated the idea as part of his national welfare agenda.

Dan Hogan, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, said that the mere threat of license suspension had helped increase collection rates in other states. He said Maine had collected $26 million from 13,023 chronic non-payers since it began threatening license suspensions in August 1993. In that period, only 100 licenses were actually suspended.

"From the Maine experience, you can see most people realize it's a serious threat," Hogan said. "We're saying, `Here's your chance to get in and clean things up because we're coming after you if you don't."'

Hogan said California, which has issued warnings to 22,889 drivers, had seen its child-support collections increase by $10 million.

Under the new policy, which was approved by the legislature in June as part of the state budget, the state will begin mailing notices Monday to 190,000 parents to warn them about the new policy.