MAYOR LONDON N. BREED AND TREASURER JOSÉ CISNEROS PROPOSE ELIMINATION AND REDUCTION OF FINES AND FEES THAT PLACE DISPROPORTIONATE BURDEN ON PEOPLE WITH LOW INCOMES AND COMMUNITIES OF COLOR
Proposal included in Mayor’s proposed budget is next step in San Francisco’s multi-year effort on fines and fees reform and part of meeting the goals of creating an equitable recovery from COVID-19
San Francisco, CA – Mayor London N. Breed and Treasurer José Cisneros are proposing the elimination or reduction of numerous municipal fines and fees that have an adverse, disproportionate impact on people with low incomes and communities of color. The Mayor’s Budget Office and the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector’s Financial Justice Project developed these recommendations after conducting a review of municipal fines and fees in advance of Mayor Breed’s proposed budget for FY 2021-2022.
These actions aim to lift a financial burden off of residents with low incomes who have struggled most during the COVID-19 health pandemic. The proposed reforms are part of the Mayor’s efforts to ensure that San Francisco has a strong and equitable recovery, and the next step in a multi-year process to reform the burdensome system of fines and fees that has included eliminating criminal justice fees, making jail phone calls free, and eliminating overdue library fines. The citywide Economic Recovery Task Force prioritized conducting a citywide review of fines and fees as part of the City’s recovery efforts.
“Fines and fees impact all of us differently, and for some people a single fee can have a dramatic impact that can make it hard to put food on the table or pay their rent,” said Mayor Breed. “We know that now is the time to be investing in people who are struggling to get back on their feet as we all do the work to lift this City out of this pandemic. We have made significant progress over the last few years to make meaningful change on fines and fees, and we will continue to make more changes over the coming year.”
“Fines and fees that exceed people’s ability to pay them are often a lose-lose, for people and for government, said Treasurer Jose Cisneros. “Someone should not face a bigger consequence because their bank account is smaller. And we should not balance our budget on the backs of people who can least afford it. I’m proud of this work.”
The Mayor’s FY 2021-2022 budget proposes the elimination of the following fees:
- Elimination of the Street Artist License Fee ($849), which has been historically paid by artists who are low-income, immigrants, and/or aging. This license fee permits these vendors to sell their art in designated spaces to support themselves and their families. The elimination of this fee will ensure stronger participation in the San Francisco Arts Commission program, help expand diverse, vibrant, revenue-generating marketplaces for artists, and attract local and tourism dollars for handmade creations.
- Elimination of Medical Examiner fees that are primarily charged to family and friends of deceased, typically for deceased people who were experiencing homelessness or very low-income crime victims. These fees include proof of death letter ($10), statement of non-contagion ($10), disaster bag ($67), removal of remains ($632), and cremation ($1,196).
- Elimination of fees associated with City ID cards ($6 for youth and $18 for adults). These fees are primarily paid by undocumented and low-income individuals and can be barriers to obtaining this form of identification.
- Elimination of two Animal Care and Control fees: owner surrender of animal ($33) and dog license late fees ($32). These fees are challenging to pay for low-income residents.
Over the coming year, the following departments will develop or enhance fine and fee discounts for low-income people based on their ability to pay:
- The Department of Public Health will collaborate with other departments to create an “equity applicant” category for fees that likely impact people with low incomes, such as fees associated with mobile and temporary food facilities, as well as massage and tattoo parlors. This would result in a reduction of permit fees for qualifying individuals.
- The Fire Department will look to expand its existing ambulance fee financial hardship process for low-income residents.
- The Recreation and Parks Department will expand its outreach to maximize participation in its robust scholarship program, making it easier for families to apply and removing barriers to participation in summer camps, afterschool programs, swimming lessons, art, health and wellness, sports, and other recreational activities.
Through a review of fines and fees across departments, the Mayor’s Budget Office and The Financial Justice Project identified fines and fees that may be “high pain” for low-income people and families, and identified reforms that will make a difference for struggling individuals. The two offices met with departments to better understand the goal and impact of fines or fees, conducted research on the community impact of fines and fees, and developed recommendations for reform.
The Financial Justice Project is housed in the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector. Its mission is to assess and reform fines and fees that have an adverse disproportionate impact on low-income people and communities of color. Over the past four years, The Financial Justice Project has partnered with Mayor Breed, City and County departments, the Court, and community groups to advance a number of fine and fee reforms, lifting tens of millions of dollars of debt off thousands of San Franciscans. These reforms include:
- Eliminating local fees charged to people in the criminal justice system and waiving $32 million in debt owed by 21,000 people;
- Making jail phone calls free and eliminating commissary markups in San Francisco County jails;
- Eliminating overdue library fines, and waiving debt stemming from overdue fines; and
- Creating other discounts for towing, booting, and other fines and fees for low-income people and people experiencing homelessness.
The Financial Justice Project, in partnership with the Fines and Fees Justice Center and PolicyLink, has also launched Cities and Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, a national network of ten jurisdictions that are advancing fine and fee reforms.