ANNAPOLIS – State officials declared a weeklong amnesty program for deadbeat parents a success Tuesday, citing the collection of more than $705,000 in overdue child support payments.
The program, which ran from Sept. 11-15, gave parents the opportunity to contact authorities without facing prosecution for their late child support payments. All of Maryland’s 23 jurisdictions and several offices in Virginia and Washington participated in the project, organized by the state’s Child Support Enforcement Administration.
Establishing trust with parents was a key goal of the project, which Teresa Kaiser, executive director of the administration, said is difficult when parents fear prosecution.
“They trusted us enough to come in and share information about where they are, what their needs are, and to come up with a plan to connect with their child support issue in the future,” she said.
Many parents didn’t show up with money to pay their dues, but were willing to work with officials on a manageable payment plan. Besides discussing payment options, counselors helped 550 parents find work or enter drug and alcohol treatment programs. While such remedies are not direct payment, Kaiser said getting a job or receiving other assistance could lead to parents making future payments.
In addition to the $705,000 received by various offices, including more than $70,000 in Baltimore, officials signed up 1,470 parents for wage liens. With wage liens, employers automatically deduct wages from a parent’s paycheck to ensure quick distribution of funds to the children who need them.
The department honored its promise by working closely with local courts to cancel 540 arrest warrants over the course of the week for parents who took part, Kaiser said.
The amnesty idea was intended as a one-time project to help as kids are going back to school and extra money is needed. But Kaiser said the success of the program has prompted discussion of another Amnesty Week next year.
In 1999, more than $107 million in child support payments were owed to the state, with the total debt at more than $1 billion to date, according to preliminary data published by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.
Denise Davis, executive director of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, said any attempt to get delinquent parents in to talk with officials is a step in the right direction.
“I think it was creative,” Davis said. “I think it’s a good idea to reach out to these parents to try to bring them back into both their children’s lives and the support for their children.”