Photo courtesy of DebtStoppers

The city of Chicago is putting a temporary suspension on all debt collection, ticketing and towing practices through April 30 as residents brace for insurmountable economic challenges during the coronavirus crisis. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the announcement on March 19. The penalty relief package also puts a halt on late fees and defaults on payment plans, including city tickets, utility bills, parking and red-light citations, booting and other non-public, safety-related violations. 

Additionally, current payment plans will not accrue new interest during the coronavirus crisis, according to a city press release.

Lightfoot said these measures are the first steps to help reduce the financial impact of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“This is a common-sense way that we can help mitigate the burdens and pressures many are feeling. We know that these practices disproportionately impact the residents that are most in need during this crisis,” Lightfoot said in the press release.

A ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ investigative report found that the city’s ticketing and debt collection practices send thousands of Chicago motorists into bankruptcy each year. Since then, the city has announced reforms, including an end to driver’s license suspensions from unpaid parking tickets and more affordable payment plans for tickets, according to ProPublica Illinois. 

“We realize that many of our residents are strapped for cash right now as the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus has created difficult economic circumstances for those who are unable to work,” Lightfoot said. “We don’t want to further impact people who can’t afford to pay these penalties today and want to provide some breathing room to help them prioritize how to address their financial obligations.”

According to health officials, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus that can spread from person to person. ymptoms include fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can appear between two and 14 days after exposure.

There are no vaccines to protect against the virus at this time, and no medications approved to treat it. Health officials believe the coronavirus is spread between people who are in close contact (within about six feet) from each other through respiratory droplets from sneezes and coughs.

At this time, the most vulnerable populations are people aged 60 and older, or those with underlying health conditions.

Lightfoot and her administration soon will announce more coronavirus economic relief measures to help stabilize residents, business owners and the city economy. 

According to the press release, other financial relief efforts include:

Ticket issuance:
  1. Enforcement will be prioritized for safety-related violations.
  2. Enforcement on compliance-related violations will be suspended until April 30, 2020.
Parking, red light and speed camera violation collections:
  1. Delay assessment of penalty (ticket doubling) until after April 30, 2020.
  2. Delay driver’s license suspension until after April 30, 2020.
  3. No booting until after April 30, 2020.
  4. Delay referral of tickets to collections firms until after April 30, 2020.
  5. No defaults of payment plans until after April 30, 2020.
Utility bills:
  1. Extend due dates until after April 30, 2020, delaying the assessment of penalties.
  2. Delay referrals to collection firms until after April 30, 2020.
  3. No defaults of payment plans until after April 30, 2020.
Administrative hearing collections:
  1. Extend due dates until after April 30, 2020 (this will delay assessment of interest).
  2. Delay referrals to collection firms until after April 30, 2020.
  3. No defaults of payment plans until after April 30, 2020.
Other collection efforts:
  1. Extend the deadline for TNP and taxi drivers to pay debts to April 30, 2020.
  2. No debt holds on new licenses or permits.
  3. Law firms and collection agencies will cease collection efforts.