The Winston-Salem City Council on Monday approved a $275,000 appropriation to support a program that restores the driver’s licenses of people who don’t have serious traffic violations but who have lost their driving privileges.
The money will cover for 18 months the costs of hiring three staffers in the district attorney’s office who will focus on the license-restoration program.
The effort will be a continuation of a program that started in 2015 that has helped about 2,000 people get their licenses back, city officials said, adding that there may be some 18,000 people in Forsyth County who could be eligible for the help the program provides.
City participation is coming on the initiative of Southeast Ward Council Member James Taylor, who also pushed the city to begin a program several years ago to help ex-offenders get jobs with the city.
“I’m very excited about the work we are doing for local justice reform,” Taylor said, during Monday night’s discussion of the program. “We create a lot of jobs in Union Cross Business Park, but transit doesn’t get out there. I’m happy to say we believe it is going to get hundreds of people their licenses back, and eventually thousands.”
The license-restoration program doesn’t apply to just anyone. In addition to being a Forsyth County residents, participants would not be able to benefit if their license losses were because of violence, driving while impaired, violating laws regarding school buses, hit-and-run-incidents or sex offenses. In addition, people who are currently imprisoned cannot take part.
The program was presented to the city council last fall, when Assistant City Manager Tasha Ford told the city’s Public Safety Committee that research shows that people who take part in programs like this one typically experience big increases in their employment rates and take-home pay.
The reason for that is that having a driver’s license is often a requirement for the kinds of jobs that pay well enough to lift people out of poverty.
Ford told council members that a New Jersey study found that nearly half the people who lost their licenses also lost their jobs and couldn’t find a new one. For those who did find new work, the vast majority of them were making less money.
At present, Ford said, the program is geared to help people who have been without their licenses for an extended period of time.
Because of the job ties to having a license, the program is to be known as the Driver Restoration Initiative and Vocational Expansion, or DRIVE.
Taylor said that it is possible that the Winston-Salem Foundation could help with keeping the program going after the 18-month initial period runs out.
Taylor said it could take a few months to get the program up and running.
Council Member D.d. Adams said the program shows what can be accomplished when various agencies work together. Although funded by the city, the employees hired by the program will work under the district attorney’s office.
“When we work together, it is amazing what we can do in this town,” Adams said. “There are going to be some people in this city that are going to be very happy when they get a license.”
Michael Banner, speaking during the public-comment period, praised the effort and said the effort could focus on people with more immediate license problems. The program could work toward “influencing judges who have the power to eliminate fees.”