Bail System

When bail feels less like freedom, more like extortion, By Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Shaila Dewan, March 31, 2018, New York Times: “Most bail bond agents make it their business to get their clients to court. But when Ronald Egana showed up at the criminal courthouse in New Orleans, he was surprised to find that his bondsman wanted to stop him. A bounty hunter was waiting at the courthouse metal detector to intercept Mr. Egana and haul him to the bond company office, he said. The reason: The bondsman wanted to get paid. Mr. Egana ended up in handcuffs, missing his court appearance while the agency got his mother on the phone and demanded more than $1,500 in overdue payments, according to a lawsuit. It was not the first time Mr. Egana had been held captive by the bond company, he said, nor would it be the last. Each time, his friends or family was forced to pay more to get him released, he said…”

Debt Collection and the Poor

  • Debtors’ prison: ACLU report details ‘criminalization of private debt’, By Jon Schuppe, February 21, 2018, NBC News: “Americans’ reliance on household debt ─ and poor people’s struggles to pay it off ─ has fueled a collection industry that forces many of them into jail, a practice that critics call a misuse of the criminal justice system…”
  • How Chicago ticket debt sends black motorists into bankruptcy, By Melissa Sanchez and Sandhya Kambhampati, February 27, 2018, ProPublica: “By last summer, Laqueanda Reneau felt like she had finally gotten her life on track. A single mother who had gotten pregnant in high school, she supported her family with a series of jobs at coffee shops, restaurants and clothing stores until she landed a position she loved as a community organizer on Chicago’s West Side. At the same time, she was working her way toward a degree in public health at DePaul University. But one large barrier stood in her way: $6,700 in unpaid tickets, late fines and impound fees…”

Cash Bail System

  • What happened when New Jersey stopped relying on cash bail, By Maddie Hanna, February 16, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “One year into New Jersey’s nationally watched overhaul of its bail system, the state’s pretrial jail population has dropped 20 percent as courts have all but stopped setting cash bail…”
  • Philadelphia DA drops cash bail for ‘low-level’ crimes, By Anthony Izaguirre (AP), February 21, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Philadelphia’s top prosecutor said Wednesday his office will stop jailing people who cannot afford to pay cash bail in minor criminal cases, affirming the commitment of the country’s fifth-largest city to a national movement that argues the practice targets poor Americans…”

Payday Lending – Colorado

Payday loans have average interest rates of 129% in Colorado. A ballot measure proposes capping them., By Brian Eason, February 21, 2018, Denver Post: “With a growing body of research showing that a prior round of reforms did not eliminate abuses in the payday-lending business in Colorado, reform supporters are now looking to ask voters to limit interest rates on the short-term loans…”

Bail Reform

  • New Jersey claims bail-reform a success, cites huge drop in jail population, By Peter Krouse, February 13, 2018, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One year after sweeping criminal-justice reforms became law in New Jersey, the state has “successfully transformed an antiquated money bail system into a modern risk-based system,” the state’s courts reported Tuesday…”
  • Could Dallas’ bail system be deemed an ‘instrument of oppression’ after Houston ruling?, By Naomi Martin, February 16, 2018, Dallas News: “On the one hand, it was a kick in the gut.  But it was also a roadmap. That’s how Dallas County officials see a much-anticipated ruling by a federal appeals court on bail reform. For years, county leaders and judges have been in talks to overhaul the criminal bail system to make it easier for poor arrestees who aren’t dangerous to be released from jail while they await trial…”

Bail Reform – New York

Cuomo, in bid to help poor, proposes ending cash bail for minor crimes, By James C. McKinley Jr., January 2, 2018, New York Times: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to ask the New York State Legislature to eliminate cash bail for many crimes and to speed up the disclosure of evidence in trials as part of a package of proposals intended make the criminal justice system fairer for indigent defendants, his aides said…”

State Licensing and Employment

  • When unpaid student loan bills mean you can no longer work, By Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Stacy Cowley and Natalie Kitroeff, November 18, 2017, New York Times: “Fall behind on your student loan payments, lose your job. Few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work. As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans…”
  • The disappearing right to earn a living, By Conor Friedersdorf, November 17, 2017, The Atlantic: “In most states, a person who desires to install home-entertainment systems for a living, or as a part-time gig for extra cash, faces relatively few barriers to entry. This is work teenagers routinely do for grandparents after they make a technology purchase. But in Connecticut, a home-entertainment installer is required to obtain a license from the state before serving customers. It costs applicants $185. To qualify, they must have a 12th-grade education, complete a test, and accumulate one year of apprenticeship experience in the field. A typical aspirant can expect the licensing process to delay them 575 days…”

States and Medicaid Expansion

  • LePage says he’ll block voter-approved Medicaid expansion unless legislators fund it, By Scott Thistle, November 8, 2017, Portland Press Herald: “Just hours after a Medicaid expansion was endorsed by nearly 60 percent of Maine voters, Gov. Paul LePage and his Republican allies vowed to delay, if not derail, the citizen-initiated law that would provide health care to as many as 70,000 low-income residents of the state…”
  • Election results invigorate Medicaid expansion hopes, By Abby Goodnough and Margot Sanger-Katz, November 8, 2017, New York Times: “The election results in Maine and Virginia have energized supporters of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in several holdout states. After months of battling Republican efforts to repeal the law, they now see political consensus shifting in their direction…”
  • Medicaid expansion takes a bite out of medical debt, By Alex Smith, November 10, 2017, National Public Radio: “As the administration and Republicans in Congress look to scale back Medicaid, many voters and state lawmakers across the country are moving to make it bigger. On Tuesday, Maine voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Advocates are looking to follow suit with ballot measures in Utah, Missouri and Idaho in 2018…”

Medicaid Coverage

  • States that expanded Medicaid saw drop in medical debt, U study finds, By Christopher Snowbeck, July 24, 2017, Star Tribune: “The federal health law’s Medicaid expansion delivered a degree of economic stability to low-income Americans in states that adopted the program, according to a new report from University of Minnesota researchers. Low-income residents in states like Minnesota that expanded eligibility for Medicaid coverage saw a bigger decline in unpaid medical bills between 2012 and 2015 than people living in states that didn’t expand coverage, according to the study published in a blog by the journal Health Affairs…”
  • How crisis pregnancy center clients rely on Medicaid, By Sarah McCammon, July 24, 2017, National Public Radio: “When Taylor Merendo moved to Bloomington, Ind., nearly two years ago, fleeing an abusive marriage, she needed help. ‘I was six months pregnant and at that point in time, I really didn’t have a stable place to live,’ Merendo says. That’s where the Hannah Center in Bloomington stepped in. It’s what’s known as a crisis pregnancy center, where women are counseled against abortion and often get support after their babies are born…”
  • Alabama officials abandon Medicaid reform plan, By Amy Yurkanin, July 27, 2017, al.com: “State officials have abandoned a plan to transform Medicaid in Alabama from a fee-for-service model into managed care system led by local healthcare organizations due to uncertainty about funding and high start-up costs…”

Court Fines and the Poor

An alternative to paying court debt: Working it off, By Rebecca Beitsch, April 4, 2017, Stateline: “When Steven Robinson first landed in county jail here for cocaine possession about a year ago, he had about $12,000 in court debt and his driver’s license had been suspended for more than 20 years because he never paid off earlier fines and fees. But Robinson, 47, and other inmates in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail are allowed to do community service to work off the debt that they rack up in fines and fees on their way through the court system. By doing more than 1,000 hours of community service while serving time, Robinson has gotten his debt down to about $5,000…”

Driver’s License Suspensions – Minnesota

Unpaid traffic tickets — debt trap for the poor — in MN legislators’ sights, By Bill Salisbury, April 2, 2017, Pioneer Press: “For Carmen Mask, 2009 was a rough year. Mask and her husband divorced, her household income dropped from around $80,000 to $25,000 a year, and she and her three sons moved from their St. Paul house to an apartment. While moving in an old van her ex had left her, a police officer pulled her over and gave her a traffic ticket for driving with a broken tail light. He also told her that her insurance had expired. ‘I was really struggling at that time, and I forgot about the ticket,’ said Mask, 45, an employment counselor who now lives in Minnetonka and works in St. Paul. Soon another cop ticketed her for driving an uninsured vehicle. She couldn’t afford to pay the fine or the insurance, she said, and her driver’s license was suspended. Then a few weeks later, another officer stopped her and handed her a warrant for her arrest…”

Social Security and Student Loan Debt

The disturbing trend of people losing Social Security benefits to student debt, By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, December 20, 2016, Washington Post: “To recoup student-loan debt, the government is leaving people who rely on Social Security with benefits that fall below federal poverty guidelines, the Government Accountability Office said Tuesday.  The number of older Americans defaulting on education loans has steadily increased in recent decades, as many have returned to college or co-signed loans for family members. Unpaid debt has resulted in the government garnishing the benefits of 114,000 people age 50 and older in the past year, more than half of whom were receiving Social Security disability rather than retirement income, the GAO report said…”

Subprime Auto Lending

As subprime auto borrowers default, collection suits pile up in local courts, By Walker Moskop, June 6, 2016, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “In August 2008, William Lesinski walked into a Car Credit City in Bridgeton and made a decision that would be far more expensive than he ever imagined.  Wanting to buy his son a car as a high school graduation gift, Lesinski put $1,750 down and drove off the lot in a 2003 Ford Mustang. The loan for the car was $11,367, and it carried 29 percent annual interest over nearly four years. His son would make the payments, but the loan was in Lesinski’s name…”

Court Fines and the Poor

Debtors prison a thing of the past? Some places in America still lock up the poor, By Rick Anderson, June 8, 2016, Los Angeles Times: “Unemployed and fighting to stay clean, Jayne Fuentes had few options when a judge offered her a particularly unappealing choice – go to jail or spend her days on a work crew. Her crime? Being too poor to pay the fines and court costs that came with a drug conviction and several theft charges…”

Court Fines and the Poor

How prison debt ensnares offenders, By Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, June 2, 2016, The Atlantic: “Even after serving time for a felony conviction, former inmates can remain legally bound to the judicial system for the rest of their lives due to court-imposed fines and fees related to their crime. In some counties in Washington State that adds up to an average of $9,204, according to Alexes Harris’s new book A Pound of Flesh…”

Payday Lending

Payday loans’ debt spiral to be curtailed, By Stacy Cowley, June 2, 2016, New York Times: “The payday loan industry, which is vilified for charging exorbitant interest rates on short-term loans that many Americans depend on, could soon be gutted by a set of rules that federal regulators plan to unveil on Thursday. People who borrow money against their paychecks are generally supposed to pay it back within two weeks, with substantial fees piled on: A customer who borrows $500 would typically owe around $575, at an annual percentage rate of 391 percent. But most borrowers routinely roll the loan over into a new one, becoming less likely to ever emerge from the debt…”

Court Fines and the Poor

Court costs can be crippling for low-income drivers, report says, Associated Press, May 31, 2016, Roanoke Times: “Kimberly Hopkins was so strapped for cash, she was selling her blood plasma to make ends meet. When a court socked her with a $25 monthly payment for a speeding ticket and court costs, the divorced mother of four simply couldn’t pay. ‘Sometimes I just did not have it at the end of the month,’ the 44-year-old Amherst County resident said.  So she defaulted on the payment plan and her driver’s license was suspended. She continued driving, out of necessity, and got caught, resulting in more fines and costs. Her total court obligation swelled to about $1,500 — an impossible sum for Hopkins, who by then was unemployed and unable to legally drive anywhere to apply for jobs…”

Payday Lending

  • 1,000% loans? Millions of borrowers face crushing costs, By Alain Sherter April 25, 2016, CBS News: “Last Christmas Eve, Virginia resident Patricia Mitchell borrowed $800 to help get through the holidays. Within three months, she owed her lender, Allied Cash Advance, $1,800. On the other side of the country, Marvin Ginn, executive director of Native Community Finance, a small lender in Laguna, New Mexico, reports that some customers come to him seeking help refinancing loans from nearby payday lenders that carry annual percentage rates of more than 1,000 percent…”
  • Payday lending: Will anything better replace it?, By Bethany McLean, May 2016, The Atlantic: “Fringe financial services is the label sometimes applied to payday lending and its close cousins, like installment lending and auto-title lending—services that provide quick cash to credit-strapped borrowers. It’s a euphemism, sure, but one that seems to aptly convey the dubiousness of the activity and the location of the customer outside the mainstream of American life.  And yet the fringe has gotten awfully large…”

Insurance Coverage under the ACA

  • Immigrants, the poor and minorities gain sharply under Affordable Care Act, By Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff, April 17, 2016, New York Times: “The first full year of the Affordable Care Act brought historic increases in coverage for low-wage workers and others who have long been left out of the health care system, a New York Times analysis has found. Immigrants of all backgrounds — including more than a million legal residents who are not citizens — had the sharpest rise in coverage rates.  Hispanics, a coveted group of voters this election year, accounted for nearly a third of the increase in adults with insurance. That was the single largest share of any racial or ethnic group, far greater than their 17 percent share of the population. Low-wage workers, who did not have enough clout in the labor market to demand insurance, saw sharp increases. Coverage rates jumped for cooks, dishwashers, waiters, as well as for hairdressers and cashiers. Minorities, who disproportionately worked in low-wage jobs, had large gains…”
  • Obamacare seems to be reducing people’s medical debt, By Margot Sanger-Katz, April 20, 2016, New York Times: “Even if you lack health insurance, you’ll probably be able to get treatment at a hospital in the event of a catastrophe — if you’re struck by a car, say. But having insurance can mean the difference between financial security and financial ruin. A new study is showing that, by giving health insurance to low-income people, Obamacare seems to have cut down on their debt substantially. It estimates that medical debt held by people newly covered by Medicaid since 2014 has been reduced by about $600 to $1,000 each year…”
  • Obamacare expanding coverage for the poor, study finds, By Karen Pallarito, April 20, 2016, Philadelphia Inquirer: “State Medicaid expansions under Obamacare have improved low-income Americans’ insurance coverage, increased their doctor visits and enhanced detection of chronic health conditions, which could lead to improvements in health, a new study suggests. The findings are important as policymakers continue to debate the value of expanding Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for the poor, researchers said…”