Remarks on Signing the Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984

August 16, 1984

Thank you, and thank you for letting me join you.

This symposium is an example of the commitment with which Margaret Heckler -- Secretary Heckler -- and this administration are approaching the very important problem of child support enforcement. And with your help we hope to put the new authority for child support enforcement, provided by House Resolution 4325, into practice quickly and efficiently. The advice from this symposium should help us get things off to a running start.

Of course, advice from ``on high'' isn't always as pleasant as the guidance that we're getting here. Perhaps you heard about that fellow that fell off a cliff, and about halfway down managed to grab a shrub or a limb sticking out from the side of the cliff. He was dangling about 500 feet above the rocks, down below. And he looked up and yelled, ``Is anyone up there?'' And no one answered. He yelled, ``Lord, if you're up there, tell me what to do!'' And a voice came from the heavens and said, ``If you believe, let go.'' [Laughter] And he took another look at the rocks down below and said, ``Is there anyone else up there?'' [Laughter]

Well, we've had some children in this country, and they've been dangling above the rocks waiting for help. And today, we sign into law legislation that will give them the helping hand they need.

It's an unfortunate fact of our times and one in four American children live in single-parent homes, and millions of these children endure needless deprivation and hardship due to lack of support by their absent parent. The failure of some parents to support their children is a blemish on America. As a decent and caring people, it behooves us to come to grips with the devil-may-care attitude of some of our citizens that has left too many children in dire straits.

Understanding the situation, we've already moved forward to do what we can. In this administration, the Department of Health and Human Services has put a special emphasis on the Federal-State child support enforcement program. In 1983 this program collected some $2 billion in support for the children. Yet this is still only a portion of what is owed. And with billions of dollars still unpaid each year, our child support enforcement system needs new tools, new muscle, and new commitment throughout the Nation. And that's what this legislation is all about.

Last year, I proposed that we bolster our Federal-State child support system by mandating effective and proven collection practices. I believe that we should emphasize service to all children, welfare and nonwelfare alike, and improve incentives for State government to get the job done. The Child Support Enforcement Amendments bill contains all these features.

This legislation represents a significant break from the tradition of simply throwing tax money at a problem. Instead of creating more dependency on government, we're requiring responsible behavior by our citizens. And this is the kind of innovative and principled approach to problemsolving that will make a difference. It will not only make a difference in the lives of our children but for so many women who have been forced through no fault of their own on to welfare rolls due to abandonment. Left with the full load to bear, they often find themselves trapped in a cycle of unhappiness and destitution.

The goal of our efforts is not just the transfer of funds. We also hope to discourage abandonment and, if families do split up, to encourage the absent parents to invest time and love in their children. Permitting individuals to ignore parental obligations and giving the bill to the taxpayers in the form of higher welfare costs have been tantamount to a stamp of approval. And this is not the kind of message public policy should be sending out.

There's been much talk of late about the importance of family and traditional values in our society. Well, that's a traditional -- or a welcome change, I should say, from the days when the simple virtues of goodness and decency were often laughed at, even ridiculed. But one thing is certain: It's deeds, not words, that count. Many policies of the past were anything but supportive of the family. Programs like this, on the other hand, are not only aimed at justice for the children but also at encouraging ethical behavior and bolstering vital social institutions like the family.

We hope that by placing the responsibility where it should be, on the parent, people will be encouraged to make moral decisions. Our administration is trying to bring this kind of spirit to all its endeavors.

I want to congratulate everyone concerned with this effort. By passing this legislation, the Congress has acted honorably, in the best bipartisan manner, for the benefit of children who really need the help. Many people deserve thanks on this occasion for what they've done to make this possible. Those of you here on the platform have earned a special word of appreciation.

Since the Congress is in recess, many other Members who worked long and hard on this bill can't be with us. And I want to express my special appreciation to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dole, Senators Bill Armstrong and Russell Long, under whose able management the legislation passed in the Senate. In the House, Dan Rostenkowski, Carroll Campbell, Barbara Kennelly, and Barber Conable were instrumental in steering the bill through the legislative process.

State and local governments have also been a positive force, and I believe this legislation underscores a change that's taken place in the way we do things. As demonstrated by this symposium, we've developed new working partnerships with State and local government. And in the months ahead, that working relationship will be put to use to carry out this new law with maximum effectiveness.

And you've already heard a little bit of history about my home State of California and all, and it was a part of a key welfare overhaul reform at that time. And our success was what moved me to testify before the Senate Finance Committee in support of a nationwide child support enforcement system. So, as you can tell, I have a very special reason myself to celebrate today.

And with that said, I shall go sign House Resolution 4325, the Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984.

Note: The President spoke at 3:28 p.m. at the Symposium on Child Support Enforcement at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. The symposium was organized and convened by Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret M. Heckler.

As enacted, H.R. 4325 is Public Law 98 - 378, approved August 16.