All governments need money. But under Rahm Emanuel, Chicago stands out for jacking up fees and fines on low- and middle-income folks while doling out subsidies and tax breaks to well-connected developers and corporations.

That’s bad enough. It’s worse when the city’s revenue policies actually punish people for being poor and drive low-income families in communities of color into unemployment and bankruptcy.

That’s what’s happening, according to a raft of new research and reporting on Chicago’s punitive policies on parking tickets and similar vehicle-related fines.

Community Organizing and Family Issues surveyed low-income parents in Chicago and Illinois and found that among those living on less than $15,000 a year, 22 percent had outstanding ticket debt. Added to high levels of debt from student loans and medical and utility bills, this creates a constant financial crisis for many families.

COFI recommended the city conduct an assessment of the impact of all fees and fines on low-income families, make payment plans more accessible, and end the ban on city jobs and business licenses for people who owe municipal fees.

Chicago Jobs Council surveyed participants in employment programs and found that 52 percent of those with suspended driver’s licenses due to non-driving violations like parking tickets reported losing jobs or job opportunities as a result. More than half of those with suspended licenses said they only found out when they were pulled over by police—a situation where they can end up losing their car or going to jail.

Most license suspensions were debt-related, and some of the debts were huge, as a result of late fees and other penalties: 31 percent reported owing over $3,000. Respondents also said payment plans offered by Chicago and other municipalities were unaffordable. (Chicago’s payment plan requires a $1,000 down payment.)

The Woodstock Institute found a clear pattern of racial inequity: residents of lower-income and minority zip codes in Chicago were 40 percent more likely to be issued vehicle-related tickets, despite the fact that higher-income white communities have more cars and more commuters.

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