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An amnesty program meant to help parents catch up on past-due child support encouraged more of them to pay, according to a state agency.

During June and July, twice as many people than usual signed up for payment plans — agreements to make monthly installments on arrears — according to the Child Support Program of the North Dakota Department of Human Services. 

In total, 307 parents entered agreements to pay past-due support, according to the agency. Of the people who signed on in June, 87 percent made their second payment toward past-due support in July. 

“It was time well spent to negotiate with more obligors and get them into payment plans,” Jim Fleming, director of the agency, said in an interview. 

To incentivize parents, the agency granted amnesty to those with child support-related warrants and reinstated suspended driver's licenses for anyone who set up a payment plan. For every $2 a person paid toward past-due support under those plans, the agency wrote off $1 in accrued interest or state-owed money.

Sixty-four people took advantage of the match and paid an average of $1,700 toward their debts.

Fleming said he has two main takeaways from the program: First, it's worth doing special outreach to people who make monthly payments, but have suspended licenses because of arrears. Second, it may be sensible to ask courts to quash warrants for people who agree to payment plans at any time, not just during the amnesty period.

"We have to let obligors know they don’t have to wait to come in until they can pay in full," Fleming said.

The agency contacted about 2,600 people who would have qualified for the program. Fleming said he would consider offering amnesty again in the hope of attracting a larger group.

"It would have been nice to have more participants. I think there are a lot more obligors who have the ability to pay," he said.

Meanwhile, the agency plans to ramp up enforcement efforts against those who didn't take advantage of the amnesty, he said, adding court warrants may be issued.

“We’ve gotta do something to collect the arrears for those families,” Fleming said.

The total reduction in past-due support, including payments and the match, was about $108,000, according to the agency. About $250 million in past-due support is owed in the state. 

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Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com

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