More than 1 million Ohioans a year lose their driver’s license due to suspension. For many, the result can be devastating, putting their employment at risk and disrupting households. More, it can be years before they regain their license, if they ever do, as they struggle to pay mounting reinstatement fees, some seeing the expense exceed $10,000.

Few argue with the need to impose such fees, say, when someone drives without insurance or fails to pay child support, the two leading reasons for license suspensions. The concern is the fees turn into prolonged punishment, especially for those who lack the means to get out of a deep financial hole.

With that in mind, state lawmakers enacted a six-month pilot program last year designed to help those who are poor regain their licenses. The program concluded at the end of July, and on Wednesday, the Ohio Poverty Law Center issued a report documenting the success, 76,669 Ohioans seeing their fees waived or reduced, avoiding $63 million in costs while the state collected $3.6 million it likely would never have recovered.

Now state lawmakers can build on the advance by approving House Bill 285. It would make the program permanent.

A pioneer in this cause has been the Volunteers Assisting Licensed Individual Drivers, or VALID, program in Summit County, led by attorney William Dowling, Judge Todd McKenney of the Barberton Municipal Court and the University of Akron Legal Clinic. The past few years, local attorneys and others have given their time on Saturdays once a month to help people navigate the cumbersome process of regaining a license.

The program got its start through local municipal court judges telling the Akron Bar Association that this is the greatest need they see for pro bono legal assistance. The number of people receiving help from the program is now approaching 4,000. This worthy effort has been enhanced by the state allowing for payment plans.

Which gets to the difference in the state pilot program. Lawmakers provided a helpful mechanism for easing the burden on those with low incomes. If they are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, they could have their fees waived, as long as they meet other requirements. Those who do not receive food assistance, though they may be eligible, could have their fees reduced.

All told, 6,380 people had their fees waived, at an average of $1,270, while the average reduction in fees was $789.

Why provide such relief? One estimate is that Ohioans owe more than $500 million for suspended licenses. Most of that sum the state will not collect. The better option is to put people in position to lead more productive lives. A driver’s license, often crucial in getting to work, expands employment opportunities, potentially leading to a larger paycheck, and the financial capacity to afford insurance and contribute to child support. The state gains tax revenue, not to mention drivers with insurance coverage.

In that way, House Bill 285 proposes more than extending the program on a permanent basis. It expands eligibility to those receiving benefits through Medicaid, Ohio Works First, the Supplemental Security Income program or a Veterans Affairs pension. If the purpose is to assist those with low incomes, it follows to include other sources of need-based assistance. It is worth noting that the broader justice system accounts for income in handling cases. There are such tools as community service.

What is shortsighted is continuing to pretend that many Ohioans can get out from this burden. They need relief, along with a driver’s license, to improve their lives and benefit all of us.