In less than two years of organizing and advocacy by POWER-PAC IL’s Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign, Chicago has taken the first step to reforming its fees and fines system!
On January 18, 2018, parents published the “Stopping the Debt Spiral” report exposing the devastating consequences that families face due to debts of all sorts. The report particularly highlighted municipal fees and fines as an area in need of reform.
The report grew out of a parent-led survey developed in collaboration with the Chicago Foundation for Women and the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University of Chicago, where parent leaders across Illinois interviewed other parents and community members about the effects of debt on their lives.
By December 2018, POWER-PAC leaders in Chicago had found an ally in City Clerk Anna Valencia who, with POWER-PAC parents, co-convened the Chicago Fines, Fees, and Access Collaborative which also included other city officials, advocates and researchers. We held listening sessions throughout the city and, in June 2019, published recommendations for reform.
By July, Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, joined POWER-PAC and City Clerk Valencia in announcing her support for reform legislation. On September 18, 2019, the Chicago City Council voted 49-1 in favor of the ordinance that takes a major step forward in creating a more equitable city. The new law overhauls Chicago’s ticketing and debt collection system, including ending driver’s license suspension over unpaid parking tickets, reducing down payment requirements to pay ticket debt, and stopping doubling fines for city sticker violations.
Just a few of the many POWER-PAC partners who made this achievement possible include the Chicago Jobs Council, the Woodstock Institute, and the Heartland Alliance along with Pro Publica and WBEZ reporters Melissa Sanchez and Elliot Ramos, and government officials including City Clerk Anna Valencia, Alderman Gilbert Villegas and Alderman Michael Scott.
Parent leaders are looking ahead to the next steps and fighting to make sure their voices are heard in the implementation of these reforms. They are also working on a statewide level to pass the License to Work Act, which will end license suspensions for non-moving violations.
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