Our Executive Director Manny Rodriguez recently presented during a press conference on the License to Work initiative, and his remarks were so powerful that we wanted to share with you.
A driver’s license is a passport to a job. Over 80% of Illinoisans drive to work, and data shows that up to 42% of individuals lose their jobs following the suspension of their license.
In the constructor sector, where Revolution Workshop operates, a license is necessary for employment. Job sites can change week-to-week or even day-to-day, and having a suspended license can keep people from making their livelihood. As we began our programs in the fall of 2018, it became apparent very early on that license suspensions were an issue for the people we serve, which are overwhelming Black and Brown people from underserved communities on the city’s south and west sides.
Fine and fee policies prey on the most vulnerable in our community. These suspensions are not due to the nature of the offense but the inability to pay. Driver’s license suspensions—when used as a debt collection tool for tickets, court debts, and for parents who fall behind on child support payments—create an impossible ‘catch-22’ where a lost license leads to unemployment and never-ending debt and drives the most vulnerable into further poverty. This is especially true when you layer on the COVID pandemic.
To make things worse as we began assisting our clients in overcoming the license barrier, we realized just how complex and difficult the system of reinstatement can be. So Revolution went to work and, so far, we have helped over a third of our clients get their license reinstated—or get their license for the first time. And we created a step by step guide for community members and other service providers that outlines this process.
With this critical legislation Illinois will no longer suspend licenses for ANY ticket fines and fees. This bill will reinstate driver’s licenses for tens of thousands of people. These reforms will ease the minds of low-income workers who will no longer fear losing their license for debt collection and losing their job. Folks can drive to work, pick up their children, and perform life tasks once again.
Our coalition still has more ambitious goals, including reducing the disproportionate rates of ticketing in communities of color, reducing local government ticket debt backlogs, reducing the extremely high costs of ticket, fines, fees and late penalties, and reducing the damage from collections measures like booting, towing, state income tax return withholdings, and employment bans caused by “debt checks” in Chicago. But through much hard work, sweat, and tears, we are here today.