Sixty Democratic state lawmakers have co-signed a letter to the governor asking him to take executive action to suspend or cancel the enforcement of fines, fees and court debt in New York.
Buffalo state Senator Tim Kennedy was at the top of the list.
"Now more than ever, New Yorkers shouldn't have to live in fear of losing a job, missing a rent payment or forfeiting an education due to personal and financial challenges," Kennedy said.
He, along with Syracuse Assembly Member Pamela Hunter, are championing a bill so the state would no longer suspend driver's licenses due to unpaid fines. Kennedy said it's even more important now as people need to get to vital appointments and avoid crowded public transit.
"Simply put, that inability to pay just became that much more common as we have millions of people out of work during this pandemic," he said.
Advocates said low-income and minority communities are penalized at a much higher rate than others for not paying these fines. In the case of court debt, that sometimes results in detainment.
"These folks should be receiving government aid right now, not being targeted for debt collection and nobody should ever be arrested for non-payment," Lindsey Smith of Brooklyn Defender services said.
A number of advocates and lawmakers joined on a Monday Zoom conference.
"There is no public safety advantage for continuing this practice, especially, not only in this moment but especially in this moment when we know that if somebody is incarcerated their likelihood of contracting the virus and being exposed is only higher," Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn, said.
They said the governor can take actions like suspending or canceling these fines and fees and give courts the ability to waive surcharges.
The Fiscal Policy Institute said while many governments rely on these sources of revenue, it's not wise to make money on the backs of the poorest citizens, and the profit is minimized by how much it takes to collect.
"The reality is this is not a way to generate revenue in a responsible way at all but yet after the Great Recession, local governments really accelerated the levying of fines and fees to raise local revenue," Executive Director Ron Deutsch said.
These advocates said New York is behind the curve as other states have already implemented some of these measures.