President Clinton Signs Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 24, 1998

At the Signing of The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998

The Oval Office
9:10 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much Sonia. And Jonathan andJesse, welcome to the White House. Thank you General Reno. Thank youSenators Kohl and DeWine for coming. And Congressman Hoyer, thank you foryour hard work on this. I'd also like thank Congressman Henry Hyde who isnot here for his leadership on this legislation. Welcome Judge David Ross,the Commissioner of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement; UnitedStates Attorney Helen Fayhey; child support advocates and Leslie Sorkhe andGerri Jensen, two other mothers who are here. I thank you all for beinghere.

I am very pleased to sign a vital new law that shows what we canachieve when we act in the national interest. For five and a half yearsnow we have renewed our economy with a strategy that balances the budgetwhile it invests and instills the future of our people and in the strengthof our families. The key to expanding opportunity in this new century Iwant to say, though, is education.

I want to say a little more about child support in a minute but thesetwo young men behind me and all the children of our country deserve aworld-class education. I have asked the Congress to help me in that; tohelp us to reduce class size by hiring 100,000 teachers and building orrepairing 5,000 schools. I have asked them to help me institute highstandards to connect all classrooms to the internet and I've asked them tomake child care for working parents more affordable.

Yesterday the Republicans in the House of Representatives took a hugestep in the opposite direction. Last night they began to dramatically cuteduction investments from Head Start to after school to anti-drug programs.This is out of step with our values and with America's' shared vision ofour future. In the coming months I'll have more to say about this but youcan be sure that I am going to keep fighting to advance education, toinvest more in education, to lift education standards, to expand eductionopportunities. And if they continue to fight against all these things itwill, I expect, be the major conflict of the coming months.

I still hope that I will not have to sign an education bill or vetoone that short changes the future of our children. I don't intend to signit. I hope a veto won't be necessary but there is no excuse for this. Wehave a balanced budget, we're going to have a surplus, we have the money,we ought to give it to the children and their future.

This bill today is a gift to our children and the future. The quietcrisis of unpaid child support is something that our country and ourfamilies shouldn't tolerate. Our first responsibility, all of us, is toour children. And today we all know that too many parents still walk awayfrom that obligation. That threatens the eduction, the health of ourchildren and the future of our country.

One of the main reasons single mothers go on welfare is that fathershave failed to meet their responsibilities to the children. Even when afamily manages to stay out of poverty a father's failure to pay childsupport puts mothers who are raising children by themselves under terriblepressure. A lot of women are forced to work two jobs, to work at night orsimply to worry sick about their children either because they're away fromthem all the time or because they're with them but they don't have enoughto support them.

When fathers neglect support of their children it aggravates all theother problems a family faces. When I was governor, and then when I ranfor President the first time in 1992 I made child support enforcement a bigpart of my concerns. I've always asked parents to take responsibility fortheir children. I've always pledged to do my best to force them to do soif they refused.

We have waged an unprecedented campaign to make deadbeat parents liveup to their obligations. Thanks to tougher laws, more sophisticatedtracking, and powerful new collection tools we've increased child supportcollections by 68 percent in the last five years. Almost a million and ahalf more children are getting child support today.

There are two other signs of success that I would like to report.Last year our effort to find out the identity of fathers allowed usestablish paternity in 1.3 million cases, up from only 510,000 in 1992.Our new national database for identifying deadbeat parents across statelines has found more than 1 million delinquent parents in just the firstnine months of its operation. Before we created this database deadbeatparents found it easy to avoid paying up by skipping from job to job orstate to state. But with this database there is no where left to run.

With these and other successful child support initiatives we believethat we've made a real difference for people like Sonia and her two finesons. But we can and must do more. Current law is too soft on the mostserious cases of neglect, the cases in which a parent flees across statelines or national boarders and skips out on supporting children for a yearor more. In 1996 I asked the Attorney General to draft legislation tocrack down on this appalling practice. Senators DeWine and Kohl, andCongressman Hyde and Hoyer championed their cause, introduced versions ofthe legislation and help to secure an overwhelming bipartisan majority forthe bill I am proud to sign into law today.

The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998 deals with child supportevaders in the most serious cases. From now on if you flee across statelines and refuse to pay child support you may be charged with a federaloffense, a felony offense, and may land in jail for up to two years. Oneway or the other people who don't support their children will pay what theymust.

I thank all the members of Congress and all the children's advocateswho are here today to contributed this major victory to our children. Nowwe can work together to ensure that the progress we have made on childsupport is not accidentally undone; let me mention that, one more veryimportant issue. Under bankruptcy reform bills now in the Senate and Housesome mothers could find themselves in competition with powerful banks andcredit card companies to collect the child support they need. In thatcompetition I think we all know who would lose, our children.

We are working with Congress now and we will continue to do so toproduce a bankruptcy reform bill that demands responsibility from bothdebtors and creditors and stems abuse. But any bill must make protectingchild support payments a high priority. It would be ironic indeed, afterall this work we have done, to increase child support collections -- andhere we are signing a bill today to make it more difficult to avoid thecollections -- if we turned around and passed a bankruptcy bill that putmothers and their children back in the pack along with other creditors.That's not the right thing to do. So I hope that we will see action on thebankruptcy bills and on the education bills that will reflect the samepriority for our children that this bill does today.

And again, let me thank all the advocates and all the sponsors and letme thank Sonia and her two fine sons for being here. This is a happy dayfor Attorney General Reno and me and I would like to ask you all to comearound now and I'll sign the bill. Thank you.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: You guys stand on either side here. Sonia youcome up here and I'll show you how I sign a bill into law. See I have allthese pens because there are all these people who want one. (Laughter.) Ihave to find a way to use everyone of these pens when I sign this. Sodon't start laughing at me, all right?

(The President signs the bill.)

Q Mr. President, hasn't this latest rebuff by China cast a reallysevere pall over your trip to China now? They've really turned you down --

PRESIDENT CLINTON: You mean the Radio Free Asia thing?

Q -- on special appeal -- visas.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think they made a mistake and before I leavehere, as a matter of fact in just a few minutes, I'm going to do aninterview with Radio Free Asia correspondents to send a clear signal thatwe doing believe ideas need visas and that we support freedom of the pressin our country.

I think in a way it will help to highlight some of the very importantissues that we wanted to discuss. I hope that this trip will not onlyallow me to learn more about China and allow the American people to learnmore about China but will help me to explain America and what we believe inand why to not only the government but to the people of China and this is agood beginning here.

Q Well, have they encouraged you to --

PRESIDENT CLINTON: And this is a good beginning here. I will do mybest to do that. I think they made a mistake. And as I said the ironicthing is the Chinese grated more visas to more journalists from moredifferent media outlets than they ever have before. So they were actuallyshowing a greater openness than they have and because they reversedthemselves on the Radio Free Asia visas, for reasons I don't understand,they have denied themselves that credit. So, I intend to press this issueby doing the interview in just a few minutes.

Q Is this going to mean that it will be harder for you to reachagreements with the Chinese on detargeting nuclear missiles, on marketaccess -- is this disagreement going to make that a harder process?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't know. I hope that we can deal with allthese issues independently. I think the Chinese understand, as we do,we've got a big common stake in non-proliferation of weapons of massdestruction. I expect to make some progress. We have a big stake in theAsian economic situation and the difficulties there. We have a big stakein our own bilateral economic relations and the impact that a lot of thiswill have in terms of integrating China into the global economy.

So I would think that they would not let this get in the way of whatis in their self-interest, just as I won't let it get in the way of what isin the interest of the United States, but our values are an important partof our interest.

We don't live by money alone, or even by power alone, but also by ourideals and convictions, so I think it is important to point this up. But Ialso think it's important that you see it in it's proper framework.

The irony -- as I said, this is an ironic situation because theChinese granted more visas to more different media outlets apparently thanever before. They granted this visa and then reversed themselves. I thinkit was a mistake and I'll do my best to make it clear why.

Q Are you going to see the dissidents now -- I mean, as aretaliation?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to see a number of people from differentelements of Chinese society, and I'm going to do what I think is best topromote the cause of human rights.

Q Is the White House taking any symbols of democracy, as has beensuggested by some Republican lawmakers such as copies of the American flagor the Constitution?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I'm sorry, I don't have anything to say aboutthat.

Q What about detargeting? You didn't mention that specifically andI had asked you about it. Do you see an agreement on that?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think it would be a good thing if we could reachan agreement on it. I think it does two things. It literally delayssignificantly the amount of time it takes to arm a missile and aim it,therefore, eliminating the possibility of accidental firing. And it alsoreally increases, I think, the confidence between the countries that weremoving to reduce the nuclear threat. So I hope we can do that but I don'tknow yet. I don't have an announcement to make. But you know -- I've madeit very clear that I would like to do that.

Thank you very much.

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