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Chicago to fund kid programs, get 50 cops thanks to $8.5 million taken from scofflaws

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted a series of new initiatives that will be launched thanks in part to a controversial crackdown on scofflaws that netted an $8.5 million windfall.

The collection tool allows for State Comptroller Judy Barr Topinka to garnish Illinois income tax refunds of so-called scofflaws—or those who owe the city money from parking tickets, citations and judgments. The collection system was signed into law by the mayor last month after passing the City Council by a vote of 41-8. That vote followed an intergovernmental agreement that was struck between the City Council and the state of Illinois. That deal was finalized last December. 

“By ensuring that those who break the law are held accountable, the taxpayers of Chicago are reaping an $8.5 million dividend that we are reinvesting in keeping our kids safe,” the mayor said on Monday.

City Comptroller Amer Ahmad said, “Since day one of this administration, we have pledged to improve the way the city collects its debt so that the honest Chicago taxpayers who play by the rules aren’t left holding the bag.”

According to a release by the mayor’s office, the money will fund “20,000 additional youth opportunities this summer and 50 new cadet slots in June 2012 police academy class.”

It goes on to say that, "Of the more than 28,000 scofflaws that will have their income tax returns deducted for debt they owe, 55 percent of them – 15,671 – are not Chicago residents."

The city plans on allocating:

• $2 million for 50 additional police cadets
• $2.5 million for Park District summer programs
• $2 million for the city’s summer youth employment program
• $2 million for After School Matters apprentice and internship program

“We can’t just keep telling our young people what not to do. And not offer positive alternatives,” Rev. Michael L. Pfleger said in an interview following the mayor's press conference.

Rev. Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, has been a public activist against gang violence in Chicago.

“It really important to me, it’s going to almost double the summer job opportunities,” he said referring to expansion of After School Matters and the city’s park summer programs. “It’s one of the greatest attacks we can do to stop the violence is to offer something positive to do in the summer time.”

The expansion of the summer park programs will increase the slots for summer day camp, youth soccer, digital audio and video artwork programs and Junior Bear youth football. 

A new parks program will receive $500,000 aimed at reducing violence in certain areas during “high-crime periods.”

The Summer Youth Employment Program currently serves 2,400 youths. The city hopes to double the program, which it says provides participants ages 16 to 24 with opportunities to receive coaching and mentoring. It also aims to provide employment skills through real-world work experience.

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