"Families that can't count on a minimum amount of money to live on are the most stressed in this nation," says Woolsey, a Democrat elected to Congress in 1992 from Petaluma, Calif., north of San Francisco.
Now 56, she remembers her own anxious days in 1967 after her stockbroker husband became emotionally ill. He deserted her and her three young children, she says, puncturing their comfortable "Leave It to Beaver life."
"We had a child-support order that, with my working, would have made it possible for me to take care of my children without welfare, with the exception of health care," she says.
But the first two checks her ex-husband sent bounced and she never got another, Woolsey says.
She sold their house in Marin County, a wealthy San Francisco suburb, and took a $580-a-month secretarial job. But she soon had to supplement her income by going on welfare. "I didn't go on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) until I realized my earnings wouldn't pay for child care and health care and food we needed."
Woolsey also plans to reintroduce her unsuccessful 1993 proposal to require that credit reports include past-due child-support payments. "Absent parents pay for their boats and their cars before they pay for child support because there's no penalty. . . . That should be as detrimental as owing something on their automobile, or more detrimental."
Improved collection, coupled with a minimum benefit for families that don't receive child support, would offset welfare costs or even keep many mothers
from needing welfare, she argues.
"I want to give them, without their feeling guilty, the tools . . . to be able to provide for themselves and their children in a way that gives them dignity and self-esteem.
"Whatever we do," Woolsey says, "we have to do better for our children."