Financial Justice Project Publications

The general public and policy leaders are often unaware of the human toll of excessive fines and fees that exceed people’s ability to pay them. Nor do leaders realize that solutions often exist that work better, both for government and for people. To inform and build awareness, we publish issue briefs, op-eds, and generate media coverage on our key findings, recommended solutions, and of the inequitable burden of these fines and fees.

Key Publications Include:

The Payback ProblemThe Financial Justice Project co-authors report: The Payback Problem: How Taking Parents’ Child Support Payments to Pay Back the Cost of Public Assistance Harms California Low-Income Children & Families. The report reveals that every year, hundreds of thousands of low-income children do not receive their full child support payment. That’s because low-income families only receive the first $50 of a parent’s monthly child support payment; the rest is redirected to pay back the cost of public benefits, like Medi-Cal and CalWORKs. In California, 70% of outstanding child support debt is owed to the government, not to children. In the report, we find that requiring parents to pay back public assistance takes valuable resources away from children living in poverty, disproportionately harms children of color, and sets low-income parents up to fail. The penalties that kick in when someone can’t afford to pay – including ten percent compound interest, suspending driver’s licenses and incarceration- are counterproductive and set low-income parents up to fail. Momentum is growing for reform, and several statewide bills have been introduced to make the system work better for low-income families. The report, and potential legislative changes, were featured in an op-ed authored by Financial Justice Project Director Anne Stuhldreher in the Los Angeles Times: Why Child Support in California Isn’t Going Where It’s Needed Most. The report is available here: The Payback Problem: How Taking Parents’ Child Support Payments to Pay Back the Cost of Public Assistance Harms California Low-Income Children & Families.

Long Overdue ReportLong Overdue: Eliminating Fines on Overdue materials to Improve Access to San Francisco Public Library. The Financial Justice Project partnered with the San Francisco Public Library to publish a report on the impact of the library’s overdue fines. The report outlines how fines disproportionately impact low-income residents, African-American communities, and San Franciscans without college degrees. The report finds that patrons across the City, regardless of income, miss return deadlines at similar rates. However, patrons in low-income areas face much more difficulty in paying the fines and fees associated with overdue items. As a result, overdue fines can widen existing inequalities. Roughly 11 percent of the Bayview’s adult cardholders are blocked from accessing library materials, which is more than three times as many as in high-income locations. Across the City, branches that serve lower-income populations have a greater share of blocked patrons. As libraries across the country are going increasingly going fine-free, research shows that overdue fines are not an effective tool to encourage returns, and the fiscal impact of the move would be minimal. The report also recommends several administrative changes to help increase the return rate, including sending out more reminders, and shortening the timeframe before a book needs to be replaced or paid for. The Library Commission will be hearing a proposal to eliminate overdue fines at their next meeting on Thursday. The report is available here.

Criminal Justice FeesCriminal Justice Fees: High Pain for People, Low Gain for Government. In May 2018,  San Francisco became the first county in the nation to pass legislation to eliminate administrative fees charged to people exiting the criminal justice system. This report outlines how 1) the fees are assessed to low-income people who cannot afford to pay them 2) increase barriers to reentry and the odds of recidivism; and 3) are an anemic counterproductive source of revenue for the city and county of San Francisco. The report outlines the our key findings on the human and fiscal impacts of the fees; the fee collection rates;  the process to advance this legislation, and recommendations for other counties considering similar reforms. The report is available here

Fines and Fees Task ForceSan Francisco Fines and Fees Task Force Report: Initial Findings and Recommendations. Our first year was about identifying and understanding community pain points, generating buy in from key players, advancing doable solutions, and getting initial traction on reforms. We also worked to raise awareness of the problem and potential solutions. We formed and chaired a countywide San Francisco Fines and Fees Task Force with participation from the courts, key city and county departments, legal service providers, and community groups. When reviewing fines and fees, our goals were to hold people accountable, while ensuring that consequences are proportionate to the offense and do not disproportionately impact low-income San Franciscans.  In May of 2017, we released a report outlining our initial findings and recommended reforms in several policy areas, including transportation fines and fees, quality of life citations that are often issued to people struggling with homelessness, and child support debt owed to the government. Include thumbnail with picture of report.  The report is available here.

Do the mathDo the Math: Money Bail Doesn't Add Up for San Francisco  In June of 2017, the Financial Justice Project released a report on San Francisco’s system of money bail. The report illustrates how this privatized system, operating at the heart of the criminal justice system, strips $10-15 million a year in nonrefundable bail fees from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. The report outlines the key problems with the money bail system in San Francisco, and outlines potential solutions for reform. Include thumbnail with picture of report.  The report is available here.