Saint Paul Joins NLC Initiative to Mitigate Negative Impacts of Municipal Fines and Fees on Residents

April 12, 2019
Contact: Liz Xiong


SAINT PAUL, MN - The National League of Cities (NLC) has selected Saint Paul to participate in its Cities Addressing Fines and Fees Equitably (CAFFE) six-city technical assistance initiative designed to help cities assess and reform their use of local fines and fees and develop equitable collections strategies.

“This partnership between our new Office of Financial Empowerment and the National League of Cities will help us assess the impacts of our fines and fees,” said Mayor Melvin Carter. “Through this vital work, we will be able to improve how the City of Saint Paul serves residents, and help ensure everyone in our community feels safe, welcome, and included.”

“The City has a vested interest in the financial security of our residents. CAFFE will allow the City to explore how fines and fees are issued and the effects they have on residents,” said Muneer Karcher-Ramos, Director of the Office of Financial Empowerment. “We must evaluate the unintended consequences of our fines and fees in order to improve our process, and ensure equitable outcomes.” 

Whether initiated by courts, unpaid bills for city services, or other administrative actions, municipal fines and fees can impose a financial burden for residents with low-income. Debt collection practices can further exacerbate the financial strain on residents with low-income. 

Cities can miss key opportunities in their current approaches to fines and fees – residents who are unable to pay fines and fees often struggle with other debt and financial burdens and may not be aware of financial empowerment services available to them in their communities.

NLC’s CAFFE initiative will assist cities to implement innovative financial empowerment approaches to help residents who are in debt to cities as a result of municipal fines and fees. NLC will also draw upon lessons from its LIFT-UP program which successfully assisted cities in reducing residents’ water utility debt.

This partnership with NLC’s CAFFE initiative will further support the Office of Financial Empowerment’s efforts to address the roots of financial instability by building citywide strategies that coordinate financial education and existing wealth building efforts led by the nonprofit, private and governmental sectors. It also builds on the City’s work to eliminate library late fees and fines which was adopted last year.

NLC’s CAFFE project will focus on a six-city cohort, which will receive grants and technical assistance to:

  • Assess their fines and fees structures within at least one of their municipal collections entities;
  • Learn new ways to reduce inequities in how fines and fees are imposed; and
  • Make program or policy changes that lead to a new collections model for the city, connecting residents in debt with services that improve their financial health

Cities will also have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the City of San Francisco’s Financial Justice Project, and their work to assess and structurally reform how fines and fees impact low-income residents.

In addition to Saint Paul, the five other cities joining the project include Aurora, Colorado; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Durham, North Carolina; Lansing, Michigan; and Nashville, Tennessee.

The CAFFE initiative is made possible with support from JPMorgan Chase and Co.

The National League of Cities is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans. The Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, a special entity within the National League of Cities, helps municipal leaders take action on behalf of the children, youth, and families in their communities.