Policy

Kiddie Cops

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In addition to "ending welfare as we know it," the 1996 welfare act is helping to end privacy as we know it--all in the name of child support.

As a further step in the federal effort to crack down on "deadbeat dads," as of October 1 the feds required everyone who gets a new job in the United States to report his name, address, and de facto national ID number (a.k.a. Social Security number) to state child support agencies, to ensure that dads tardy with their child support can't make any cash without the government's knowledge.

Employers have to do the reporting, but they aren't the only ones being deputized by the child support sheriff: Your banker is, too. Under the threat of losing federal child support subsidies, the 1996 law requires every state to set up a data system that matches the state's list of deadbeat dads against bank account holders in the state.

Some states are moving beyond the federal mandate. Vermont requires that the amount of money in a deadbeat dad's account, not just the account's existence, be reported. And Minnesota has set up a second option for banks that don't want to go to the trouble of checking the state's list of deadbeats against their account records: Banks can send the government information on all account holders and let the state do the checking.

Even the government officials who enforce the programs aren't always sure what's going on. The head of Vermont's office of child support was uncertain of the details on his state's bank-account reporting provisions until I asked him to look it up. And some Minnesota state representatives thought their program had to be set up to report on all accounts, even though that's not part of the federal law.