PHOENIX, Ore. — Tracy Chavez says she was caught in a cycle.
“My youngest son was 2 years old and he is 28 years today and I still haven’t gotten my license back.”
The mother from Bend says she got minor traffic fines, including while driving in the city of Phoenix. The fees kept adding up.
She couldn’t pay, and ultimately, those fines turned into a suspended license.
Chavez owing more than $14,000 to 7 different courts in Oregon.
As a mother of 4, Chavez said she didn’t have many options other than driving with a suspended license, which is usually what led to the fines.
“I could never navigate this system to make it work for me, I could never get answers, they would always say that things were sent to collections so that was a dead end for me, even though I tried I could never get anywhere,” says Chavez.
With traffic debt dating back to 1999, Chavez contacted the Oregon Law Center for help.
The non-profit legal service, works to advocate for low income Oregonians.
It says they see this kind of problem a lot.
“We started asking our low income clients and we were astounded by the number of people affected by license suspension and court debt it’s 10’s of thousands of Oregonians who have their license suspended for this reason,” says Kelsey Heilman with the Oregon Law Center.
The non-profit helped Chavez reach out to all of the courts and seek an arrangement for the fines.
Some courts approved payment plans, some reduced the balance, some gave her community service.
“I knew that I owed it and I didn’t expect anyone to just give it to me free, so I was okay with doing whatever they wanted me to do as long as I could do something,” says Chavez.
The city of Phoenix reached an agreement to write off all traffic debts 10 years or older and clear those suspensions right away, not only for Chavez, but everyone else too.
The city says a factor in this decision was that many of those debts were simply uncollectable.
“If that makes it that much more complicated is it really worth penalizing people who cannot afford how ever their priorities are arranged or seem to somehow get their fines paid,” says Doug McGeary with the city of Phoenix.
Chavez says she encourage other drivers facing the same problems she did, to seek help and work out options to solve their traffic debts.
As for those with newer traffic debt, the Oregon Law Center says the city of Phoenix is currently supporting major debt compromises through things like a 50% balance reduction or through community service.