Casinos, race tracks urged to seize winnings from deadbeat parents

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton is hoping to put the squeeze on parents who owe billions of dollars in child support payments by seizing large jackpots won at casinos or dog races by deadbeat dads and moms.

In his fiscal 2001 budget plan, Clinton is proposing that gambling establishments check to see if their big winners owe child support, and withhold the winnings if they do. The White House estimated Wednesday that this maneuver alone could bring in $348 million over five years.

But the idea has met resistance on Capitol Hill.

''This does not pass my smell test,'' said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. ''This is a proposal that sets a dangerous precedent, by adding a federal burden to an industry that is already regulated. The gaming industry should not become an arm of the federal government, not for this laudatory endeavor or anything else.''

The gambling provision is one of several items in Clinton's budget seeking to collect $2 billion in back child support in the next five years. The largest amount, $1.2 billion, is expected to come through streamlining rules governing distribution of child support to ensure that more of the money goes directly to families.

Besides collecting gambling purses, the remainder of the child support payments were to be gathered through efforts from booting the cars of delinquent parents to providing funds to give job training to nonworking fathers who could support their children if they were employed.

''We view this as the next big step in welfare reform,'' said Bruce Reed, Clinton's domestic policy adviser. ''We've put mothers to work, but they shouldn't bear the whole burden. Fathers should go to work and support their children as well.''

Clinton will highlight the fathers' job-training program in his State of the Union address Thursday night, Reed said.

The president's budget plan sets aside $125 million for one year to assist 40,000 low-income noncustodial parents - primarily fathers - in finding work, meeting support payments and re-establishing relationships with their children. The program builds on $350 million in fatherhood initiatives operating under welfare-to-work efforts at the Labor Department.

The White House announced the child support initiative as it released new data showing child support collections nearly doubled between 1992 and 1999, from $8 billion to $15.5 billion. About $1.3 billion of that money was collected by withholding federal income tax refunds, the White House said. The rest came from steps such as garnishing wages, seizing bank accounts and capturing driver's or other licenses.

The gambling proposal would apply to winnings through casinos, dog racing, jai alai or keno but not lotteries, which are covered under current law. Casinos or other gambling establishments would determine whether a winning patron owes child support as they go through procedures for withholding federal income taxes from their jackpots.

Under the simplified collection rules, states would be given incentives if they allow custodial parents to keep all the child support paid for their children if they leave welfare, or keep up to $100 a month if they are in the process of leaving welfare for work.

Other methods Clinton is proposing for collecting child support include:

-Placing a boot on the cars of parents who have failed to pay. A pilot program in Virginia successfully collected an average of $5,000 from each delinquent parent. The White House estimated this would enable states to collect $183 million over five years.

-Denying passports to parents who owe at least $2,500 in child support. This would tighten a current program under which passport applications or renewals are rejected for parents who are $5,000 in arrears. The White House estimated it would generate $36 million in additional child support payments.


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