Cities and Counties invited to apply for funding! Applications due February 14.

Across the country, city and county leaders are advancing bold reforms to ensure their fines, fees, and tickets do not place a disproportionate burden on low-income residents and people of color. These local leaders have found that fines and fees that exceed low-income residents’ ability to pay are often a lose-lose, for people and for government. For low-income residents, a cascade of consequences sets in when they cannot pay: their debt can grow, their driver’s license can be suspended, their credit score goes down, and their employment and economic mobility opportunities are diminished. To address these problems, a growing number of local governments are implementing smart reforms that make a difference in the lives of struggling residents, advance racial equity and are feasible for government to implement.

To seize on this emerging momentum for change, PolicyLink, the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, and the Fines and Fees Justice Center have established Cities & Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, a national leadership network of local places committed to meaningful fine and fee reform, that works better for people and for government.

Through Cities & Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, local government leaders will have an opportunity to lead local teams that advance cutting-edge policies, engage with experts and peers from across the country, and catalyze a national movement to advance equitable fine and fee reform. Participating localities will receive grant funding, individualized technical assistance, and training on a range of tools, strategies, promising policies, and best practices.

We are currently accepting applications for the network’s inaugural cohort, which will launch in the first quarter of 2020. Please review these FAQs carefully prior to starting your application.

Printable PDF versions of the network application and FAQs are available below:

What will participating cities and counties do?

Participating localities will commit to developing and implementing three meaningful reforms of fines, fees, or other financial penalties. To achieve this goal, participants will:

  • Reach out to and engage with community groups to inform policy development, advancement, and implementation.
  • Conduct a fines and fees assessment to identify fines, fees, tickets, and financial penalties that have an adverse impact on low-income people and people of color.
  • Build a reform agenda informed by the fines and fees assessment as well as engagement with community groups.
  • Catalyze reforms across the U.S. by sharing lessons learned and best practices with officials in other jurisdictions.

What support will cities and counties receive?

Cities and counties will receive tailored support and resources from national experts throughout the initiative, including the following: 

  • Grants: Each team will receive $50,000 to build capacity and enact reforms. Funding may be used for any purpose relevant to advancing fine and fee reform. See FAQ for examples of potential uses of funding.
  • Individualized assistance: Participating cities and counties will receive technical assistance from national experts based on the teams’ individual capacities, needs, and goals. 
  • Community engagement support: Teams will receive assistance on methods to engage community groups in the reform process, from policy development to policy implementation.
  • Data and resources: Teams will receive access to data, best practices, promising policies, and models for reform.
  • Learning and networking opportunities: Participating cities and counties will benefit from a cross-team network and learning opportunities through in-person convenings, peer advising sessions, and recurring webinars.
  • Communications support: The Network will support local jurisdictions with media outreach, including the development of press releases and op-eds.
  • Research and other support: The Network will assist with research, budgeting/forecasting, and drafting legislation if needed.

What are key dates in the application process?

Applications are due by 6:00 p.m. PT/9:00 p.m. ET on February 14, 2020.

About the Partners:

The San Francisco Financial Justice Project is the nation’s first effort embedded in government to assess and reform fines, fees, and financial penalties disproportionately impacting low-income residents and communities of color. Working with community organizations, advocates, city and county departments, and courts, FJP has spearheaded the elimination or reduction of dozens of fines and fees and lifted millions of dollars in debt off of tens of thousands of local residents. The Project’s accomplishments are listed here, and here is a guide to available fine and fee discounts for San Francisco low-income residents.

The Fines and Fees Justice Center seeks to catalyze a movement to eliminate the fines and fees that distort justice. FFJC’s goal is to eliminate fees in the justice system and to ensure that fines are equitably imposed and enforced. FFJC provides resources, makes critical connections, offers strategic advice, and serves as a hub for the fines and fees reform movement, working with impacted communities, researchers, advocates, legislators, justice system stakeholders, and media all across America. For more information on fines and fees work around the country please see the searchable FFJC Clearinghouse here.

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity by Lifting Up What Works. Over the last several years, PolicyLink has worked to educate advocates and government leaders about the harmful impact of fines and fees on low-income communities, particularly those of color. PolicyLink is a leading proponent of the Families Over Fees Act (also known as California Senate Bill 144), potentially groundbreaking legislation that would eliminate virtually all criminal fees in California. PolicyLink is also a  steering committee member of Debt Free Justice California, a statewide coalition committed to ending criminal legal system policies that disproportionately penalize low-income people.