Here's an something that should be brought to Minnesota to protect children.
New state program withholds hunting, fishing privileges for 'deadbeat' parents
Licenses withheld until child support is paid
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - When Rachel Miller got a child-support check for more than $14,000 last fall, she never would have guessed the long-awaited money appeared because the father of her two sons likes to hunt white-tail deer.
The state refused to renew his hunting license as part of a new program that gives deadbeat dads an ultimatum: Pay up now or give up your right to hunt and fish.
"I thought someone was pulling a joke on me," said Miller, who lives in Roscoe, just north of Rockford. "I thought, 'It's a little late for April Fools'. Not funny.' "
Matching up hunting licenses against lists of parents behind on their payments is one of the state's newest ways to use technology as a dragnet to chip away at the long-standing problem of child-support collection.
In the six months the program has been in effect, the state has collected nearly $130,000 from 90 parents who owed at least $1,000 each in child support and had to make good to be allowed to fish or hunt. An additional 88 parents decided to forgo the licenses rather than pay their child support tabs. Collections are expected to grow even more rapidly after Illinoisans swarm to renew licenses that expire en masse Monday and fishing season starts to pick up.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich vowed to improve on Illinois' ranking among the nation's worst at child support collection when he took office in 2003. Last year, the state collected a record $1.2 billion in payments. Despite improvement that garnered awards from watchdog groups, however, state officials say custodial parents, mostly women, still are owed $3.2 billion in back child support.
The hunting license crackdown is merely one tool in the state's arsenal aimed at forcing parents to pay what they owe for their children. A program launched several years ago withholds professional licenses, such as medical or accounting licenses, from parents behind in their child support. In January, the state began sending warning notices to deadbeat parents threatening to suspend their driver's licenses if they fail to start paying up within 60 days. More than $127,000 has been collected.
Illinois is trying to duplicate the success of other states, where people have shelled out enormous sums to preserve their right to hunt. In Maine, one hunter paid $30,000 in back child support after being selected in an annual lottery for one of only 3,000 coveted licenses to hunt that state's majestic moose.
For Michael DeBrito, Miller's ex-boyfriend, the incentive was deer, not moose. He hadn't made a child-support payment for his teenage sons, Anthony and Michael, since 2005, according to court documents and state officials. Miller had about given up hope.
"I had paid more in lawyer's fees than I had ever collected," she said. "It was costing too much money to try and collect a little bit of money."
Then DeBrito tried to renew his hunting license last year. For the first time in the 22 years he has been hunting white-tail deer, DeBrito said, he was denied.
Instead, he was given a phone number.
"It showed an error, and when I called the number, they said [the license] was not being issued because of back child support," DeBrito said.
Under the new state program, people who apply for a hunting or fishing license through a sporting goods store or other designated vendor will be denied a license if they are flagged as delinquent in child support. Their names are marked for rejection if they appear on lists maintained by the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees outdoors activities, and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which oversees child support collections.
DeBrito blamed a paperwork mistake for Miller not receiving payments, but Ruth Igoe, a spokeswoman for Healthcare and Family Services, said the state is not aware of any paperwork issues. She said DeBrito paid overdue child support in October.
According to court files, DeBrito used part of a worker's compensation settlement to pay $14,187 of what he owed. He then got his hunting license and is now back on track with a $125-per-week plan, Igoe said.
Miller, who has married and is now also the mother of an 8-year-old daughter, used part of the money to expand the small kitchen that serves as a family room.
"We're a pretty close family, and we tend to gather in the kitchen," Miller said. "We have a bigger area where we can gather and enjoy board games."
The experience has LED
Miller to believe holding licenses in limbo until delinquent parents pay up is good practice.
DeBrito, who lives in Geneva, feels otherwise.
"I don't agree with a lot of things they did with fishing and hunting licenses," DeBrito said. "The way the state works now, they're in control of way too many things."
Not everyone—including several statewide hunting organizations—sees it the same way as DeBrito.
"We think the program is good if the intent is to collect child support due to dependent minors," said Jered Shofner, president of United Bowhunters of Illinois. "If that's what they have to do to track them down, it's a good thing."