Tino Wilson, a Black man and business owner from Larkspur, has been buried by child support payments for decades.
With three children: Julian, 31; Tino Jr., 19; and Malachi, 14; Wilson, 50, owed about $70,000 in child support to the state.
“It’s hard to get out from under it, but I had to try to do it,” Wilson said.
This year, the Phoenix Project, a Marin City-based advocacy and aid group, and the county Department of Child Support Services stepped into help, assisting Wilson with reducing his debt by about $30,000 and setting up a regular and more manageable payment plan.
“I felt stuck and couldn’t get anywhere,” he said. “But they are very, very helpful and they are working fast with me. There’s a whole lot of people like me getting help.”
The state’s debt reduction program aims to assist parents like Wilson, who have past-due child support payments owed to the government, called arrears. The money is owed if the children received public assistance or were in foster care when child support payments were not being made.
Federal law requires that the state be reimbursed for expending taxpayer dollars for supporting the children.
The problem, said Felecia Gaston, director of the Phoenix Project, is that these arrears become so staggering that working adults, especially Black men in Marin City, are unable to get out from under them. The debt owned to the state compounds at an interest rate of 10% a year, often causing the payments to be even further out of reach.