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Israel and several European nations including Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and West Germany, have adopted programs of ''advance maintenance''-programs under which, in varying forms, the state advances to a custodial parent the child support owed by an absent parent and then seeks to reimburse itself by collecting from the absent parent. The programs differ widely-,on the maximum that the government will advance to any one family, on the number of years an order of advance payments can remain in effect, on the efforts, if any, that the custodial parent must have made to collect from the absent parent-but all have in common two attributes that make them different from almost all programs in the United States. One attribute is that the program is available to all custodial parents entitled to receive child support regardless of their income. The other is that in each it is the national government that makes the payments.

In this country, a program of ''advance maintenance'' of sorts exists for recipients of public welfare but not for others. The program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) is this country's primary program of income assistance for low-income children. Its funds come from both the states and the federal government and it largely serves female-headed families with minor children. AFDC families receive a prescribed amount each month from the state, whether or not the absent parent is contributing to the child's support; the government takes responsibility for collecting from the absent parent and keeps whatever it collects (except for the new $50 monthly disregard described in Chapter 2). For non-AFDC families, however, neither state nor the federal government advances payments of support. A custodial parent who lives just above the income level entitling her ( or him) to AFDC but who is unsuccessful in collecting support payments from the other parent must simply do without. Large numbers of women with children are ineligible for AFDC because their earned income slightly exceeds their state's AFDC grant but still live in poverty because AFDC grant levels are low and the father of their children fails to make the payments due. To be sure, state governments, under prodding from the federal government, have done much in recent years to improve their systems of collecting support on behalf of parents not receiving welfare, but with the exception of Wisconsin, neither they nor the federal government has · moved, as these European nations have, toward guaranteeing a floor of support for all children with absent parents.

The Wisconsin program is described elsewhere in this volume. What I wish to do, in this brief essay, is to imagine a national ''advance maintenance'' scheme for this country, and note how far away and yet how close we are to such a system in this country.


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