State offers to forget $3,800 hospital bill -- if Flint couple gets married Posted by Bryn Mickle | The Flint Journal January 18, 2009 00:51AM FLINT, Michigan -- Gary Johnson owes taxpayers nearly $3,800 for the birth of his daughter. The state will let him off the hook but there's a catch -- he has to marry the mom. But the mother doesn't believe her wedding should be any of the state's business. "I don't think anybody should tell me when to get married," said Rebecca Witt. "I would like to have a nice wedding and I can wait for it." Five years ago, state lawmakers amended the state's paternity act to waive birthing costs for a father -- if he married the child's mother. Genesee County Friend of the Court Jack Battles sees it as incentive to maintain the sanctity of marriage but said no one is telling Witt and Johnson they have to tie the knot. "It's totally up to them, (but if they don't get married) they have to pay," he said. Although the state may encourage marriage by waiving those costs, Battles said the decision to take advantage of that option is up to Witt and her fiancee. "We have quite a few cases where this comes into play," said Battles. "It's not uncommon." Battles did not have specific statistics but said this is the first time he has heard a complaint about the marriage provision. But Witt has support in her desire to keep government influence out of any wedding plans. "It is despicable that the state would wave medical bills like a shotgun in the face of a low-income (family)," said Nicky Grist, executive director of the Brooklyn, NY-based Alternatives to Marriage. "What interest could the state possibly have in rocking this delicately balanced boat?" A spokesman for the Mississippi-based American Family Association, however, believes government has the authority to encourage marriage and should use that power for the overall good and stability of society. "The nuclear family is the preferred building block of civilization," said the AFA's Michael DePrimo. The state paid nearly $3,800 to cover the birth of Witt's daughter and taxpayers are entitled to get that money back, said Battles. Witt, 24, and Johnson live together -- and they've been struggling since the state started coming after Johnson for hospital costs that Witt racked up when she had their 4-year-old daughter, JaeLyn. Because she was on Medicaid at the time, the Friend of the Court told Johnson that he has to pay the hospital costs. After initially getting hit with a $500 a month bill last year, Witt said the couple got it lowered to more manageable $50 a month. But last week, Witt said they got a letter that the monthly payment was going back up to $500. A tough nut given that Johnson makes $8 an hour at a Grand Blanc-area nursery. Even if they get it knocked back down, Witt said it will be too much. "Losing just $10 hurts us ... We don't have a car, we don't even have an oven," said Witt. Witt said she would get married -- Johnson has asked -- but said they can't even do that at the moment because he doesn't have a copy of his birth certificate. There is also the principal of the marriage issue. "I don't think it's anybody else's decision," she said. FOC caseworkers are willing to work with people on payment plans but Battles said state law mandates those hospital costs get collected unless Johnson comes in with a marriage license. "The Friend of the Court has a responsibility to the taxpayers," said Battles. But if the state can waive the cost with marriage, Witt said the government should be able to forgive the money without a wedding. Asking the couple for more money, said Witt, will put them in a deeper hole. "The (government is) supposed to help us," she said. Johnson said he understands the state wants to promote marriage for parents but respects Witt's stance on the issue. "It's a woman's dream to have the best wedding she can have," said Johnson. He said he will meet with his caseworker in hopes of finding a solution. "I've got to figure something out," said Johnson.