July 6, 2020

Mayor Lightfoot Launches Signature Chicago Utility Billing Relief Program
Initiative will help low-income residents come into compliance on water bill payments with potential for total debt forgiveness

Mayor's Press Release

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot today joined City Comptroller Reshma Soni and Harold Rice, CEO of the Community and Economic Development Association (CEDA) of Cook County to launch the Chicago Utility Billing Relief (UBR) Program. The initiative builds on Mayor Lightfoot’s commitment to dismantling the City’s historically regressive fines and fees structure and will help Chicago’s most vulnerable residents come into compliance on City utility bill payments. The program is designed to reduce the cost of water and sewer portions of City utility bills, making them more affordable and preventing residents from having to make difficult choices between paying for utilities and other critical goods and services. Debt relief will be granted for residents that demonstrate an ability to manage the reduced rate bills for one year.  

“The Chicago Utility Billing Relief Program represents our latest step in bringing long overdue financial support to residents who have struggled with their bills, forcing them to choose between paying for their water and other essentials, and in many cases succumb to debilitating debt,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “We can no longer afford to hold back their potential or ours. Thanks to this program, Chicago’s families and communities will now have a path forward towards compliance on payments, as well as the opportunity for total debt forgiveness, helping us build a Chicago that is more equitable, more inclusive, and more hopeful for generations to come.”

The program operates in partnership with CEDA of Cook County, who operates the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It leverages the expertise and experience of CEDA leaders and uses its extensive network of partner organizations to conduct outreach and enroll homeowners. Chicago homeowners of single-family homes and two-flats must be income eligible for LIHEAP to qualify for the Utility Billing Relief program. In addition, the participant must be the property owner, reside at the address and have their name appear on the bill as the customer. Importantly, the Utility Billing Relief Program will not require documentation of residency in keeping with our Welcoming Cities Ordinance. It provides low-income City of Chicago residents with:
  • A reduced rate on water, sewer, and water-sewer tax;
  • No late payment penalties or debt collection activity;
  • Debt forgiveness after successfully completing one year with no past due balance.

“CEDA is leveraging more than 50 years of experience in operations, education and engagement in its partnership with the City and through its work to ensure high-quality services are continuously delivered to residents,” said Harold Rice, CEO of CEDA. “We are committed to working with the City to reduce poverty, revitalize low-income communities and empower residents now more than ever before especially during the unprecedented times that we currently face.”

The amount of debt tied to water utility billing has seen a nearly 300% increase since 2011 with over $330 million of overall debt today. This trend runs parallel to the recent rise in water rates, which have increased by 166% over the same period in order to account for deferred investments on infrastructure that averaged over 80 years old. With much of the debt concentrated in many south and west side communities Utility Billing Relief is focused on helping these communities.

In late April, the City rolled out a soft launch of the Chicago UBR program, which focused specifically on residents that are already enrolled in the LIHEAP program. Over the past two months, the City has enrolled 3,315 residents into the UBR program after sending out communications to nearly 8,000 homeowners. Chicagoans already enrolled in the program are eligible to have $2.9 million in debt forgiven if they remain compliant with payments for the next calendar year. To execute this successful soft launch, the City worked with CEDA to create a call center to service residents, send targeted mailings to residents and identify partner intake organizations to help residents with questions to get enrolled in the program.

“The UBR program is another example of our pursuit to find solutions to reform regressive policies that have disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable residents,” said Reshma Soni, City of Chicago Comptroller.  “We’ve made progress in lifting the burden of debt borne from antiquated practices that led to income inequities, and the UBR program builds on these efforts, especially now when so many Chicago residents are crushed under the economic strains of the COVID-19 crisis.”

With this program in place, the City will be able to focus its collection efforts on those who can most afford it, and landlords will continue to be held responsible for paying water bills. Consistent with other initiatives for fines and fees, for those who do not qualify for the reduced rate there are multiple plans for residents to choose from either a 6-, 12-, 18-, 24-, 36-month plan, accessible online. Any time a resident remains current on payments, they prevent being subjected to debt collection efforts.

The UBR launch comes on the heels of Mayor Lightfoot’s efforts to dismantle the City’s regressive fines and fees system and the harmful enforcement practices that have historically impacted financially challenged communities at disproportionate levels. Last year, the Chicago City Council approved an initial fines and fees reform package which included input from dozens of advocacy groups and city departments, which were all members of the Fines, Fees & Access Collaborative, formed in December 2018 and led by City Clerk Anna M. Valencia.

The City has already provided critical relief to many residents through new practices which include: eliminating City sticker ticket debt for those who can least afford it; reduction of excessive late fees on the City Sticker program; elimination of license suspensions for non-driving violations; launch of a series of new payment plans that expand the options for paying off debt; and new pathways to compliance to help residents who are eligible avoid any number of the devastating consequences of onerous city debt – including water shut offs, tows and impoundment, and more.

Those who may need assistance with outstanding debt are encouraged to visit  Chicago.gov/newstartchicago  for more information on payment plans, hardship qualifications and other fines and fees related information. Residents can sign up for flexible utility bill payment plans online at  Chicago.gov/finance  and those looking for more information about UBR or to sign up can visit  Chicago.gov/ubr .  
Find a qualified tax professional using IRS website resources

WASHINGTON — With the federal income tax deadline just around the corner, the Internal Revenue Service wants to remind taxpayers that IRS.gov offers tips on finding a qualified tax professional.

Over 84 million tax returns were prepared by a paid return preparer last year. Though most tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, taxpayers should keep in mind these basic tips when  selecting a tax professional :
  • Choose a trusted preparer. Taxpayers entrust vital personal data with the person preparing their tax return, including Social Security numbers and information on income and investments.
  • Review the tax return carefully before signing. Taxpayers are legally responsible for what's on their tax return, regardless of whether someone else prepared it. If something does not look right, don't hesitate to ask questions.
  • Make sure the preparer signs the return and includes their Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
  • Never sign a blank tax return. Consider it a red flag when a taxpayer is asked to sign a blank tax return.
  • Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of their client's refund or boast bigger refunds than their competition.

Taxpayers can use several options to help find a tax preparer. One resource is  Choosing a Tax Professional , which includes a wealth of consumer guidance for selecting a tax professional. There are various types of tax return preparers, including enrolled agents, certified public accountants, attorneys and some who don't have a professional credential.

The  Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications  is a free searchable and sortable database. It includes the name, city, state and zip code of credentialed return preparers who are CPAs, enrolled agents or attorneys, as well as those who have completed the requirements for the IRS  Annual Filing Season Program . A search of the database can help taxpayers verify credentials and qualifications of tax professionals or locate a tax professional in their geographic area.

The IRS requires anyone who prepares any federal tax return for compensation to have a PTIN. For 2020, the IRS has issued more than 773,000 PTINs.
There is also a page with  IRS Tax Pro Association Partners  that includes links to national nonprofit tax professional groups that can help taxpayers seek  the right type of qualified help  from a tax preparer.

More resources:
6 PM to 8 PM
(4 sessions*)
Home Buyer Education Webinar
Learn about the home buying process such as the basics of budgeting, improving credit, understanding the closing process and down payment assistance programs. 
This is an online course taught by a live instructor via Zoom.
*NOTE: This is an eight-hour course delivered in four 2-hour sessions: July 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.
6 PM to 8 PM
Financial Fresh Start Webinar
Whether you are planning to purchase a home or simply need to improve your finances, this webinar will prepare you for financial security.
Learn How To:
* Develop a spending plan
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This is an online course taught by a live instructor via Zoom.
SBA and Treasury Announce Release of Paycheck Protection Program Loan Data

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Small Business Administration, in consultation with the Treasury Department, today announced it was releasing detailed loan-level data regarding the loans made under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This disclosure covers each of the 4.9 million PPP loans that have been made.
“The PPP is providing much-needed relief to millions of American small businesses, supporting more than 51 million jobs and over 80 percent of all small business employees, who are the drivers of economic growth in our country,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “We are particularly pleased that 27% of the program’s reach in low and moderate income communities which is in proportion to percentage of population in these areas. The average loan size is approximately $100,000, demonstrating that the program is serving the smallest of businesses,” he continued. “Today’s release of loan data strikes the appropriate balance of providing the American people with transparency, while protecting sensitive payroll and personal income information of small businesses, sole proprietors, and independent contractors.”
“The PPP is an indisputable success for small businesses, especially to the communities in which these employers serve as the main job creators,” said Administrator Jovita Carranza. “In three months, this Administration was able to act quickly to get funding into the hands of those who faced enormous obstacles as a result of the pandemic. Today’s data shows that small businesses of all types and across all industries benefited from this unprecedented program. The jobs numbers released last week reinforce that PPP is working by keeping employees on payroll and sustaining millions of small businesses through this time.”
Today’s release includes loan-level data, including business names, addresses, NAICS codes, zip codes, business type, demographic data, non-profit information, name of lender, jobs supported, and loan amount ranges as follows:
  • $150,000-350,000
  • $350,000-1 million
  • $1-2 million
  • $2-5 million
  • $5-10 million
These categories account for nearly 75 percent of the loan dollars approved. For all loans below $150,000, SBA is releasing all of the above information except for business names and addresses.
The data release also includes overall statistics regarding dollars lent per state, loan amounts, top lenders, and distribution by industry. The loans have reached diverse communities proportionally, across all income levels and demographics.
In addition, the data provides information regarding the sizes of participating lenders and participation by community development financial institutions, minority depository institutions, Farm Credit System institutions, fintechs and other nonbanks, and other types of lenders. It further contains data showing the reach of the program in underserved communities, rural communities, historically underutilized business zones (HUBZones), and participation by religious, grantmaking, civil, professional, and other similar organizations.
About the U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit  www.sba.gov