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<br />Drive While You Pay program to include child support cases

Non-custodial parents whose driver’s licenses have been revoked because they are behind on child support payments soon will be able to get their driving privileges reinstated and catch up on their child support. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Non-custodial parents whose driver’s licenses have been revoked because they are behind on child support payments soon will be able to get their driving privileges reinstated and catch up on their child support by paying as little as $100 per month, no matter how much is owed in arrears to the court.  

City Court Clerk Thomas Long was set to announce Project Drive at a press conference Thursday morning (April 14), along with Franchell White of Child Support Services. Long called White the driving wheel for the agreement. The program – detailed to the Tri-State Defender on Wednesday – will begin taking applicants on Monday, April 18.

An informational tour begins Sunday at First Baptist Church Whitehaven. The initial enrollment sites will be the Ed Rice Community Center at 2907 N. Watkins St. and the Whitehaven Community Center at 4318 Graceland Dr., with enrollment from noon until 6 p.m.

Enrollees can also call Shelby County Child Support Services at 901-432-6700. For more information, contact Sharon Hodges with the City Court Clerk’s office at 901-636-3937 or visit the city’s Web site at www.memphistn.gov.

Candidates for the program will be required to pay a one-time setup fee of $250.  They will then be allowed to pay their child support at a monthly rate as low as $100, as well as any outstanding debts they may have in other courts keeping them from retaining a legal driver’s license.

Long said those with outstanding warrants can come forward without fear of arrest.  General Sessions Court, Shelby County Criminal Court and the Tennessee Department of Safety are all in support of the program.

For Long, the program is common sense.

“If your driver’s license is suspended or revoked because of child support, or whatever reason, you get caught driving and arrested, then more fines are imposed. You simply can’t keep locking people up for making mistakes and then stack the decks against them,” said Long.

“This will remove the final barrier that has been keeping many people from getting a job because it’s hard to get one without transportation. It helps break the cycle, and it will bring more families together because more parents can get to work and do their rightful duty.”

The real key was White’s work, he said.

Child Support Services presently has more than 65,000 active cases of non-compliance parents, “And she (White) was actively looking for ways to make it affordable for people to get their licenses back so they could get to work. She said it was extremely difficult trying to get it done in Memphis, but she worked and worked at it until we were able to bring it together.”

Adding the child support component culminates a 15-year crusade for Long and the Drive While You Pay program. The City Court Clerk’s office under Long’s guidance office has addressed more than 216,000 cases since the program’s inception in 1999. Of those cases, 176,000 involved suspended licenses, for various reasons. The record reflects that 63,000 were suspended in General Sessions, cases which could not be addressed before, but will now be allowed under the new plan. Also, 37,500 cases could not qualify for the program for various reasons outside Shelby County Government jurisdiction. And in 9,875 instances licenses were restored when city traffic violations were cleared.

“This completes the final component of the original intent of the Drive While You Pay system. The entire state is on board, with the exception of the Shelby County Clerk’s office,” said Long.

“I have met with them and we are presently working on getting them on board.  Our slogan on this is, ‘We’re All In!’ Meaning that their government system is actively trying to help them instead of hindering them. Now we need to urge absentee fathers to get involved and stay involved with their kids.”

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