WASHINGTON – The Maryland Department of Human Resources already has 11 programs aimed at bolstering fatherhood, but officials said they were still “elated” to see President Clinton propose a similar program nationally.
Clinton’s Responsible Fatherhood Initiative, unveiled in his State of the Union address Thursday, would “promote work, child support and responsible fatherhood” through job training, parenting classes and other support programs.
The president asked for more than $250 million to fund two programs, one aimed at non-custodial dads and another aimed at families where both parents are in the home.
Clinton’s initiative also includes stiff enforcement of child-support enforcement laws, threatening parents who do not pay with having their cars booted or their gambling winnings withheld. His plan would also streamline the child-support collection process to make sure that more of the money ends up in the hands of the mothers and not in the government’s pockets.
That last proposal was welcomed by Delegate Mark Shriver, D-Montgomery, who said the state can currently keep a large chunk of the child support it collects on behalf of single Maryland moms who are not getting paid by the fathers of their children.
“Generally, Maryland has not been as progressive as other states have been” in making sure mothers get child support, Shriver said. He said he plans to introduce legislation next week that would pass the entire amount of child support payments directly to the families.
“What it is really doing is giving money to the poorest, neediest families in Maryland. They deserve it and they have the right to it,” Shriver said.
While the Clinton program calls for tougher enforcement of child support collections, advocates said that its emphasis on getting dads to do the right thing is just as important.
“We are elated” about the president’s proposals to provide assistance to fathers who want to become involved in their children’s lives, said Stacy Rodgers, director of the Community Services Administration at the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
“It’s an opportunity for fathers to be better fathers, where that hasn’t always been the trend,” she said.
The Clinton initiative would strengthen the state’s current efforts to reach out to fathers and support them, Rodgers said.
The president’s plan gives fathers more of an opportunity to redeem themselves and take responsibility for their families where they previously may not have had the resources, said Elyn Jones, a DHR spokeswoman.
Initiatives like the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative and Shriver’s proposal, can “be nothing but a plus to the children involved,” she said.
Maryland’s “Young Fathers-Responsible Fathers” program, which started in Baltimore in 1992, provides educational and emotional support, as well as job opportunities. It now has chapters in five counties, said Jones, who is looking forward to more national support to make this connection within families stronger.
“Whatever we can do to help build families is certainly going to benefit Maryland,” she said.