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Clinton Offers New Child Support Tools

Politics: President proposes national system to track 'deadbeat parents' and collect payments. Dole uses weekly response to attack economic picture.

September 29, 1996|JONATHAN PETERSON and EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BOSTON — President Clinton, continuing a reelection strategy of offering relatively modest approaches to issues with popular appeal, announced on Saturday new steps to prevent "deadbeat parents" from avoiding child support payments.

Touting computer technology to accomplish the goal, Clinton said in his weekly radio address that the government will create a new data system designed to withhold federal payments from parents who are delinquent in their child support. The system also will be designed to block such parents from receiving a range of federal loans, including those for education, small businesses and home ownership.

Beginning his day in Texas, Clinton traveled to New England for campaign appearances in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, two states that long have been reliably Democratic in presidential races. Clinton's stops were largely aimed at assisting fellow Democratic candidates, including Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who is challenged by Republican Gov. William F. Weld in a much-watched Senate race.

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Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, meanwhile, used his weekly radio address to undercut the economic bragging rights he expects Clinton to claim when the two men meet Oct. 6 in Hartford, Conn., for the first of two debates.

With a variety of indicators recording positive news on the economic front--just last week, the government reported an inflation-adjusted increase in the incomes of U.S. households last year for the first time since 1989--Dole acknowledged that "'the president will try to paint a rosy picture of America's economy."

But, Dole said, "he won't tell you that wages for men and women have been stagnant, and that has forced more spouses into the work force just to make ends meet. And he won't tell you that bankruptcies last year were higher than ever before--and so was consumer debt as people struggle to make ends meet."

Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, briefly campaigned Saturday at a Miami Beach delicatessen. As they chatted with a group of elderly citizens, mostly women, around a table, a campaign camera crew filmed the session for possible inclusion in television ads.

Dole spent most of the day, however, sequestered at his seaside condominium in Bal Harbour, Fla., continuing his preparations for the debates. That has been his main focus since arriving in Florida on Thursday, a sign of the importance the Dole campaign attaches to the debates.

The executive orders that Clinton unveiled Saturday on the child support issue are the latest in a series of presidential announcements during this year's campaign that have potential voter appeal but do not commit the federal government to large expenditures. Previously, for instance, he has endorsed local efforts to impose curfews on young people and pledged to have the federal government join in a program to supply cellular telephones to neighborhood crime-prevention groups.

In his radio address, he said: "No area cries out for greater personal responsibility than the quiet crisis of child support. No one should be able to escape responsibility for bringing a child into the world."

The theme of personal responsibility comes at a time when Dole has been trying to tag him as a "liberal" advocate of big and costly government programs. Clinton has responded that government should play a role in helping those who need it but that it should expect responsibility in return.

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The Clinton administration has made previous efforts to clamp down on parents who avoid paying child support. But Saturday's announcement will launch the setup of a centralized, automated system in the Treasury Department to track violators and abet the task of withholding cash that they owe their children. Federal wages, federal retirement and military retirement are among the assortment of payments affected.

In addition, the administration has asked federal agencies to deny loans to delinquent parents "where permissible" under current law.

"If all the parents in this country paid the child support they owe, we could move 800,000 women and children off the welfare rolls tomorrow," the president said.

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