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Westchester County in N.Y. cracks down on deadbeat dads with newspaper advertisement

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) Life could already be difficult for fathers who gets seriously behind in their court ordered child support payments: Wages can be garnished, a driver's license suspended, a tax refund withheld.

Now, such fathers might find their faces in the newspaper in an ad labeled ``Deadbeat Dads.''

Westchester County, just north of New York City, bought a quarter page ad in Tuesday's New York Post aimed at shaming four major child support debtors into compliance, or at least finding out where they're hiding.

``Do you know where these deadbeat dads are? Their children don't,'' the ad said.

The men owe between $34,000 and $63,000 each, the county claims, and catching just one of them ``would pay for the ad 10 times over,'' said County Executive Andrew Spano.

New York state, and Westchester in particular, have been tightening their child support enforcement in recent years.

Since 1994, state collections are up 144 percent, from $617 million to $1.5 billion, said Michael Hayes, spokesman for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which oversees child support.

Westchester's rate was up even more, he said, 190 percent. The county has been honored for four straight years as the most improved big county in the state in child support enforcement.

Spano said that besides the effect on the spouse and children, missing child support payments ``dips into the pockets of the taxpayers'' by forcing many families onto welfare rolls.

``If you don't want your picture in the paper, you don't want your license suspended, you don't want your car impounded, you don't want to go to jail, do the right thing,'' said Kevin Mahon, the county's social services commissioner. ``Pay your child support.''

Other states around the country are also taking new measures to crack down on ``deadbeat dads.'' Iowa has agreements with adjacent Illinois and Nebraska so deadbeats can't find refuge by crossing a border.

Spano said Westchester parents are $144 million in arrears on child support. One of the largest debtors, at $68,000, is a woman.

Carmen Almeida, ex-wife of one of the men pictured in the Westchester ad, is owed $63,000 and said their 18 year old daughter may have to drop out of American University in Washington next semester when a scholarship runs out.

She said her ex-husband, Alberto Almeida, was a construction worker and ``had lots of money,'' but may have fled to Portugal. She hopes friends of his who see the picture ``will speak to him and see if he can send his daughter something. She needs the money and he always said he loved her very much.''

Many of the programs that secure child support, suspending licenses and withholding tax refunds, for example, are done in partnership with the state, but Westchester was on its own with the newspaper ad.

Mahon said the county may next move to impound the cars of child support offenders, and sell them in 30 days if no payment is forthcoming. He's also considering hiring private detectives to find the most reclusive debtors, he said.
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