Sunday, July 29, 2012

BUS STORY # 299 (Uphill)

Uphill by busboy4
Uphill, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is condemned to push an enormous boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down to the bottom, where he must begin the push all over again, for all eternity.

He sits down on the bench beside me, then leans over with his head in his hands.

He’s Native American, somewhere in his 30s. He’s in jeans and a plaid short-sleeved shirt, and is wearing a small backpack.

He straightens up in a few minutes and tells me he was up till four this morning doing homework.

He’s behind because he was gone a week.

He was gone a week because his aunt died and he had to go back home.

He’s probably gonna have to drop his keyboarding class, he tells me, and he really didn’t want to drop that class.

I ask him if he’s going to CNM. He’s going to SIPI -- Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.

I know someone who teaches at SIPI and I ask him if he’s taking any science classes.

He’s taking some English and office management courses. He doesn’t need any science classes. He’s certified by the state in water, waste water, and biosolids. He’s changing his career.

I ask if his certifications aren’t getting him work. He explains there’s plenty of work, but not for him because he doesn’t have a driver’s license. A lot of water analysis work requires you to be mobile -- to go to where the water is. He covered the state from the Four Corners area to Las Cruces. He can’t do that since he lost his license.

It’s not what I’m thinking.

He says he went in to renew his license and they told him it was flagged. He asked why. Because he was behind in his child support payments. He had to make restitution or else he couldn’t renew his license.

He didn’t have $12,000, he explains.

It’s not like he wasn’t making payments, he adds. He says he always paid something every month -- but often could never make the full $450. He tried pleading his case.

It didn’t matter. No restitution, no driver’s license.

He had a job at the time, but once he couldn’t drive, he was of little use to his employer, and he was let go.

He scrambled. He found a job where he could stay put, but shortly afterwards, his employer moved to Mexico, then cut everybody’s wages. He found a job in Arizona, near Holbrook, on the edge of the Navajo Nation, which he said was especially interesting because it involved water and heavy metals.

Unfortunately, he did not apply for certification reciprocity in Arizona. Sometime after submitting a sample using his New Mexico certification number on it, he got a call from Santa Fe, and that was the end of that.

Then he found a local job as a contractor, but it only lasted six months.

Sometime during his scrambling, his ex-wife lost her job with PNM. He says they gave her a pretty good severance package -- fully-funded four years of education, plus a big lump sum.

He says he was happy for her. He’d already decided he needed to get a job that would keep him in one place and didn’t require a car, and going back to school like his wife seemed like the best way to do that. He’s unemployed now, and going to school full time -- at least until he drops his keyboarding class. His new goal is office administration.

So: if I have the story straight, and if the story is true,* the state took away his ability to drive, which cost him his job, which put an end to his income, which put an end to any partial payment of child support he had been making, and put an end to any future child support payments at all until he graduates and gets a job. And it probably put him on at least one income assistance program to boot.

Meanwhile, the mountain of child support debt grows that much higher.

Of course, there at least three other sides to this story.

One thing seems apparent: He isn’t giving up. He doesn’t look or sound angry, or bitter, or beaten. He’s determined. He says he wants to get back to paying down that debt.

I tell him I admire his attitude and his spirit.

I don’t tell him how tall that mountain looks from down here, and how big that boulder is he’s put his shoulder to.


*The day after this encounter, I called the New Mexico Human Services Department. Flagging a driver’s license for non-renewal is indeed one of the tools the department can use on a delinquent parent. Other tools include garnishing paychecks and blocking passports.

I also learned that such sanctions are not necessarily automatically imposed. Often, the parent not getting the child support asks the department to take action, which they often do. Other times -- for example, when the state is having to help support a parent and children because the child support is not coming in -- the state will step in without a request.


Blogger Heather said...

The child support machine (at least here in Washington) is brutal on fathers...delinquent or otherwise. It's infuriating to watch them continually punish fathers who are doing their best to take care of their kids. I will leave it at that lest I go into rant mode.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Heather: I’ve thought a lot about your comment. Here’s what I think what might be why things are the way they are.

A state human services department sees child support as just that: child support. It is charged with getting the amount fixed by whatever process was used to the custodial parent. Failure to do so effectively will mean the state -- that is, you and me, taxpayers and voters -- will end up supporting those children economically. In this era of tax revolt and social services cutbacks, the state needs to be sure the parents are pulling their weight if those kids are gonna get that support.

However, the state is dealing with parents for whom child support is a whole lot more than economic support for their children. It is almost always charged with the deeply intense emotions of divorce: anger and hurt, with the attendant feelings of betrayal, revenge, retreat, fear. Child support, like the children themselves, often becomes a strategy or a weapon.

And then, of course, there are the true deadbeats and the con artists.

Human services departments wisely keep themselves out of the “fairness” business. If God Himself made the judgment, at least one, and probably both, parents would still feel they were treated unfairly. Better to stick with enforcing the judgment made and counting on the courts to sort things out when the two adults don't .

7:02 AM  

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