By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Even in hard times, Sonoma County expects parents to live up to their child support obligations.
For its efforts, earlier this year, Sonoma ranked ninth out of the state’s 58 counties for, among other things, getting people to pay the child support they owe.
One incentive to further collections is an offer by the county Department of Child Support Services to delinquent parents for the chance to get back their driver’s licenses, and in some cases professional licenses, if they resolve outstanding child support obligation.
The county department expects to collect $337,702 during the summer months through a program it calls Get Back on the Road. Under state law, the agency is authorized to have parents’ driver’s licenses or professional licenses denied or suspended if parents fall behind on payments.
“We really are trying to work with those parents to get them on a payment plan to pay the support,” said Pamela Crandall, section manager of Sonoma County Child Support Services. “We know that times are tough for both parents.”
Crandall said that since June, the agency has mailed out fliers about the program to 997 parents who owe child support. Of these, 224 parents have sent in delinquent payments, she said.
In 2011, the agency collected $28.3 million on behalf of some 23,306 children in the county. The county collects nearly 70 percent of all the child support owed by parents.
The Get Back on the Road program, first launched in 2009, is part of ramped-up collection efforts in August, which is recognized nationally as Child Support Awareness month. The program normally conducted for a month but this year it was opened up for the entire summer.
Other goals for August include enacting 125 orders for child support and collecting $20,000 from “non-consistent” payers through the local court system. But the biggest effort is the license reinstatement program.
Most of the licenses that are revoked or suspended are driver’s licenses, but Crandall said that failure to pay child support may also threaten other licenses, including contractor, physician or nursing licenses.
County child support services agencies also have the authority to take up to 25 percent of an owing parent’s unemployment check. Crandall said the county has recently seen a drop in unemployment collections.
Part of the reason, she said, could be that in May some 93,000 people in California ran out of unemployment benefits.
“Some went back to work, some simply timed out and are not working,” Crandall said. “We try to work with parents.”
Earlier this year, the state Department of Child Support Services recognized Sonoma County for its aggressive efforts in getting people to meet their child support obligation.
The county was ranked among the top 10 counties and the first among mid-sized counties for meeting several goals, including getting child support orders issued, collecting overall payments and collecting payments from parents in arrears.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.