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Chicago's City Sticker Amnesty Program Presents Hurdles For Those Seeking Debt Forgiveness

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The small sticker lurking in the corner of your windshield is not as benign as it may seem.

It's yet another way for the city to profit off of people who drive their car within city limits. Moreover, the city notoriously tacks on accruing penalties for drivers who forget to register for a new sticker each year, causing financial hardship for many residents.

Last September, Sheila Anderson was one of thousands of Chicagoans who failed to obtain a city sticker after she moved to the city.

"It never crossed my mind until I got the ticket," she said.

But it seemed as if the citation came at a serendipitous time.

In October 2019, a month later, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in collaboration with the City Clerk's office, announced an amnesty program to wipe out debt for vehicle sticker scofflaws. Drivers like Anderson could avoid late fees and penalties if they purchased a new sticker before the end of the month.

Once drivers possessed a valid sticker, they could also have up to three unpaid vehicle sticker tickets forgiven, according to the program's rules.

The mayor's office said approximately 11,400 people applied for the amnesty program, which translated into $11.5 million in ticket forgiveness.

At a glance, it appears that they amnesty program proved successful, but the narrative Anderson told CBS 2 paints a dramatically different picture.

Eager to get rid of her delinquent ticket, Anderson purchased a new sticker on October 22. She then proceeded to the next step – applying for ticket forgiveness before the December 16 deadline.

Anderson filled out the debt relief application online, but upon submitting the form, immediately received an error message. She tried several more times over the next three days, but to no avail.

With the clock ticking away, Anderson called the number listed on the website to help her troubleshoot. A city Clerk employee on the other end said she could not provide any assistance.

"Why does it say call this number if you can't help me," Anderson asked the representative.

RELATED: A Look At The Gang Sign Controversy That Preceded The End Of The Student Design Contest For Chicago City Stickers

That employee said the mayor's office was spearheading this program, and directed her to a city office at Montrose Avenue and Pulaski Road.

Hopeful she could find some answers there, Anderson made the journey, but an office employee there told her the amnesty applications weren't part of her purview, and that she wasn't sure why the city was directing people to this office.

After days of being shuffled from one office to another, and the program deadline looming, Anderson wrote an email to the city asking for guidance:

"I keep getting a message that my information could not be found...I also went to the city finance office on North Pulaski and they couldn't help me. So, what can I do to get the ticket debt relief before the deadline?"

She never received a response.

"I got the runaround," she said. "I never got the amnesty."

Anderson remains stuck with a $200 ticket and hours of wasted time.

"Was this just a bogus way to get people to pay for their sticker?" Anderson asked.

She may be on to something.

The 2020 budget predicted increased revenue streams through "compliance with the City's Wheel Tax," another name for vehicle stickers.

Through the amnesty program there was a 910 percent increase of residents coming into compliance with their city sticker, according to the Clerk's office.

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