The COVID-19 Recession Can’t Be Cured with More Fines and Fees.
Communities, jobs, and government budgets have been decimated by COVID-19. Since the 1980’s, state and local governments have used the criminal legal system to try to fill budget gaps and raise revenue — by imposing fines and court fees on the people least able to afford them. When the 2008 recession hit, this trend accelerated.
Fines and fees make recessions worse.
During the Great Recession, jurisdictions across the country increased the amount of existing fines and fees, introduced new fees, and made their budgets more reliant on fine and fee revenue. But fines and fees didn’t get us out of the recession. They exacerbated poverty, fueled policing-for-profit, and trapped millions in debt.
Has your locality changed their fines and fees policies during the COVID-19 recession? Have they made them better or worse?
Stimulus money is being taken away from the people who need it most.
People who owe fines and fees can have their entire stimulus payments garnished from. Though the CARES Act and ARPA were intended to promote an equitable recovery, we’re seeing an alarming number of cases of corrections departments, state and local governments garnishing stimulus checks from people living in poverty and those in the criminal legal system.
We can end this misguided policy.
Relying on fines and fees to raise funds hurts everyone — families, businesses and government. For our communities to flourish again, we must reform our fines and fees policies and move toward more equitable, effective ways of funding governments.
Surviving fines, fees and the COVID-19 Recession
Charlene’s driver’s license was suspended because she couldn’t afford to pay fines and fees. Now, she must find a way to continue to provide for her children during a global pandemic, while managing everyday life with a disability.
Without her license, she has to walk her 11-year-old daughter two miles, each way, to get her to her school bus stop. Both Charlene and her daughters have missed necessary medical appointments, because they didn’t have a way to get the doctor’s office. And with the limited amount of money she receives from disability, she can’t afford daily bus fare.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, she hasn’t been able to get to the public school sites where they were distributing free meals to get food for her daughter. Because of this, she wrote to the Volusia County Clerk of Court requesting a payment plan. She found out they sent her case to collections; they are requiring a down payment which Charlene cannot afford to pay.
“They had us in there for tickets.”
Montgomery police pulled over Reunca, a 23-year-old Black woman, because she did not have a car tag. She explained to the officer that her vehicle was new and she had been unable to figure out how to register it because state offices are closed due to the pandemic.
The officer issued a warning, returned to his car and ran her name along with the name of her 20-year-old passenger. Three other police cars pulled up while they waited. When he returned to her car, the officer told them that he was arresting them for failing to appear at hearings on unpaid traffic tickets. In the back of the car, Reunca’s six-year-old son wept in fear while Reunca’s mother rushed across town to pick up the car and take the child home.
Reunca and her passenger spent the weekend in a jail with two other women, one of whom was coughing and begging for medical attention, before they were able to see a judge. None of the women she was with had personal protective equipment like gloves or face masks — and there was no hand sanitizer or hot water.