Assessing the negative impacts of municipal fines and fees on residents

Whether triggered by courts, unpaid bills for city services, or other administrative actions, municipal fines and fees can impose a crushing burden on low-income residents. Aggressive debt collection practices can further exacerbate the financial strain on low-income residents. In many cities, unpaid fines and fees can quickly snowball, leading to escalated fines, driver’s license suspensions or even jail time – all of which further impede residents’ ability to repay by making it more difficult to maintain employment. These challenges often have a disproportionate impact on residents of color. Cities frequently miss key opportunities in their current approaches to fines and fees as well – residents who are unable to pay often struggle with other debt and financial burdens and may not be aware of financial empowerment services available to them in their communities.

With support from JPMorgan Chase and Co., the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families launched Cities Addressing Fines and Fees Equitably (CAFFE) Project, an initiative that helps municipalities assess the negative impacts of municipal fines and fees on residents’ financial health. This initiative will also help municipalities implement equitable collections strategies that help reduce debt. The following cities were selected to participate in the project: Aurora, Colo., Baton Rouge, La., Durham, N.C., Lansing, Mich., Nashville, Tenn. and Saint Paul, Minn.