Employment is essential to lifting individuals and families out of poverty. However, there is one common requirement that can
make getting a well-paying job a challenge, particularly for low-income and minority job seekers: they need a valid driver’s license.
Recognizing the adverse impact that driver’s license suspensions have on lower-income families, local leaders in the City of Milwaukee and
Milwaukee County got together to create the Center for Driver’s License Recovery (CDLR). Officially launched in 2007,
CDLR is one of the first programs in the country designed to help low-income individuals resolve active suspensions or revocations that prevent
them from obtaining or reinstating a valid driver’s license – whether due to prior incarceration or the inability to pay citations for
nonmoving traffic violations.
CDLR is a collaborative effort: Wisconsin Community Services (WCS) provides program and administrative oversight and case management,
working closely with participants, the courts and the Department of Transportation to create an individualized license recovery plan.
Attorneys from Legal Action of Wisconsin provide free on-site legal services, including structuring alternatives to financial obligations,
such as affordable payment plans or supervised community service. Milwaukee Area Technical College provides free office space, and the City of
Milwaukee helps to fund the program.
Through August of 2019, CDLR has provided services to nearly 16,800 low-income Milwaukee residents and has helped more than 3,900 individuals recover their driver’s
licenses. CDLR also has championed state-level reforms, including reducing the maximum length of a driver’s license suspension due to failure to pay a forfeiture from two
years to one, and reducing suspensions resulting from uninsured accident damage judgments from 20 years to five.
“Gaining a driver’s license eliminates a significant barrier to employment,” said Clarence Johnson, Executive Director of WCS. “It also helps break the
cycle of generational poverty by enabling individuals to drive their children to school, seek medical attention, and access food and other vital resources. With a license recovery rate approaching 70%,
we are eager to share our program with other cities across the country.”