Some working Illinois families get a temporary $15 million break

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Mayoral candidates Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Lori Lightfoot meet with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 5, 2019.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza (left) and Lori Lightfoot both wanted to be mayor of Chicago; here they are shown at a mayoral candidates’ forum in February 2019. Lightfoot won, and now she and Mendoza are teaming up to give some of Illinois’ poorest families a temporary reprieve on some overdue fines, tickets and judgments. | Sun-Times Media

Roughly 41,000 Illinois households receiving the federal Earned Income Tax Credit won’t have outstanding court judgments or unpaid traffic fines or parking tickets withheld from their 2020 state income tax refunds. It’s a temporary one-year reprieve, and fines still must be paid.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is joining forces with a former mayoral rival to provide a temporary $15 million break for working families hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Roughly 41,000 Illinois households with family incomes low enough to qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit will not have their unpaid traffic fines, unpaid parking tickets and outstanding court judgments withheld from their 2020 state income tax refunds.

For the last decade, the state comptroller’s office has been empowered to “intercept” those outstanding fines and forward them to municipalities, just as it garnishees the wages of parents who fail to make child support payments.

But working families run by essential workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic. They’re still struggling to pay for rent, groceries and health care after having their hours cut — if they’re lucky enough to have jobs at all.

That’s why Lightfoot and her vanquished mayoral rival, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, decided to give those working families a break — by giving them their full state income tax refund.

It’s not a permanent break or amnesty. It’s a temporary reprieve that impacts only state income tax refunds for 2020. The fines will still have to be paid. And cities like Chicago still have the power to turn outstanding fines over to collection agencies.

Still, Mendoza estimated the temporary break will put $15 million back into the pockets of 41,000 of Illinois neediest households.

To qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a family of four must have a maximum annual income of $56,844. The cut-off for single taxpayers is $15,820 a year.

“Families on the edge are counting on their state income tax refunds to pay bills they have been putting off as COVID-19 cost them jobs or increased their medical bills,” Mendoza was quoted as saying in a press release.

Lightfoot praised her former mayoral rival for providing “welcome financial relief” for working families, even though the break will temporarily deprive the city of millions of dollars in revenue from overdue fines and fees.

“These families have carried the heaviest burden from the COVID-19 crisis with hours cut and jobs lost and, with it, the health care, transportation and other essentials we rely on to live our daily lives,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

“As we move to put this terrible pandemic behind us, we must do everything in our power to ensure our recovery is equitable and brings everyone into the success we hope to all share.”

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to bring equity to an overly punitive ticketing, towing and booting policy that has unfairly targeted minorities and forced thousands into bankruptcy.

She promised to stop booting for non-moving violations, “sunset” red light cameras being used for “revenue — not safety” — and abolish city stickers that are the source of many tickets.

The mayor has yet to honor any of those promises. In fact, motorists caught on speed cameras driving from 6 mph to 10 mph over the speed limit have started receiving $35 ticket in the mail, under a crackdown that aims to reverse a 45% surge in traffic deaths.

Mendoza finished fifth in Round One of the 2019 mayoral sweepstakes with just over 9% of the vote. She was one of several mayoral challengers done in by her ties to indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

Lightfoot owes her landslide election to the Burke scandal.

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March 15, 2021 at 01:54PM

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