SF Actions to Alleviate the Burden of Government Fines, Fees, and Collections During the COVID-19 Health Crisis

April 07, 2020
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Dear colleagues and partners,

In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, many San Francisco departments are acting to alleviate the impact of fines, fees, and collections on low-income residents hardest hit by this crisis. Departments are taking these steps to stem the harms of the public health and economic crisis and ensure that fines and fees are not an additional barrier to people’s basic needs throughout this emergency. 

"People are losing their jobs and are struggling. We know they need every dollar they have to make ends meet, and we are taking these immediate actions to prevent further economic harms,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

These are challenging times for all San Franciscans, and doubly so for people living paycheck to paycheck and at the hardest edges of our economy. Forty-six percent of families in San Francisco are economically insecure, according to the Urban Institute, meaning that they have less than $2,000 in savings. We know that families that were already struggling will be hardest hit by the layoffs, wage cuts, and health issues stemming from the pandemic, and people’s financial reserves are now more depleted. The City is stepping up to ensure fines and fees do not add to low-income residents’ burden, and that families can direct their dollars where they are needed most.

San Francisco leaders are cognizant that during the last recession, many state and local governments dramatically increased their reliance on fines and fees to fill budget gaps. There is no doubt that the City and County of San Francisco will face budget deficits. But so will families across our city, and none more than low-income people and communities of color. From our three years of experience advancing reforms through the Financial Justice Project, we know now more than ever that balancing government budgets on the backs of low-income residents of color is inequitable, unfair, and ultimately ineffective.

“Now is the time to do everything we can to strengthen families that are struggling,” said Treasurer José Cisneros. “We know that fines and fees can hit people with lower incomes and people of color particularly hard. I’m proud of our efforts to alleviate these burdens on struggling families. I hope San Francisco’s actions inspire other cities to do the same.”

A link to a roundup of actions departments and the courts are taking in response to the crisis to alleviate the burden of fines, fees, financial penalties, and collections is included below. Some of these actions have been previously announced in press releases from the San Francisco Mayor’s office. This list may grow in the coming weeks. We will continue to update it.

View Roundup of Fine and Fee Relief Actions Here

Thank you to our partner nonprofit organizations, advocates, and city and county departments for their leadership in this crisis.
Yours in Financial Justice,
Anne and Christa