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Here’s How To Fix Regressive City Sticker Program To Ease Burden On Chicago’s Poorest, Task Force Says

A task force launched by City Clerk Anna Valencia offered up 14 recommendations, including a debt-forgiveness program.

Flickr/Daniel X. O'Neil
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CITY HALL — Chicago should fundamentally transform its city sticker program which hits the city’s “low-income communities, as well as communities of color, the hardest,” a task force launched by Clerk Anna Valencia found.

“These communities often have to make a decision between whether to pay their tickets, or pay living expenses [such as rent or food],” the 26-page report released Tuesday found.

Read the full report here.

Valencia launched the task force in December after a series of articles by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ documented how Chicago’s city sticker fees disproportionately hurt the working poor and African Americans and can lead to spiraling debt.

The task force met monthly to examine payment plans, booting, towing, impoundment and driver’s license suspension as well as debt barriers to employment. In addition, the task force held town halls and roundtable meetings to gather feedback from residents of Chicago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has pledged to change the way city officials immobilize cars with unpaid tickets, and block drivers with ticket debt from working for the city or as taxi or rideshare drivers.

“It’s time we end our reliance on a system of regressive fines and fees by moving away from balancing budgets on the backs of our low-income residents and prioritize opportunity for every Chicagoan,” Lightfoot said in a statement that accompanied the release of the report.

The task force made 14 recommendations, including:

  • Consider reducing the cost of a city sticker and the ticket for not having one
  • Launch a debt-forgiveness program
  • Reform the city’s repayment plans
  • Reinstitute the city’s 15-day grace period for city stickers
  • Eliminate unintended barriers to employment
  • Review the current late fee structure and the practice of doubling tickets for non-payment.
  • Review the city’s winter parking ban
  • Review the city’s towing and impoundment practices
  • Hire a Chicago financial justice director “to serve as point person on issues pertaining to fines and fees reform”
  • Work with the city’s chief equity officer to conduct a racial equity assessment.

A ticket for not having a city sticker cost $120 in 2012 — before the City Council approved former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to increase the fine to $200. Since 2013, revenue from city sticker tickets has increased more than $20 million, according to the Department of Finance.

That $200 ticket can double to $400, if not paid within 83 days, which could leave a car owner with more than $1,000 in ticket debt.

The task force recommended that the city consider other options, including adding a smaller percentage fine after a certain period.

The task force will continue to meet on a quarterly basis to review implementation of recommendations, as well as propose new recommendations, Valencia said.