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Help us Brainstorm how the Bankruptcy System Could be Fairer to Low-income People and People of Color

posted by Dalié Jiménez

This past month, Nathalie (Martin) and I gave a talk at the Tenth Circuit Bench and Bar Conference on Credit, Race, Class, and Bankruptcy. After recounting some of the historical reasons for persistent wealth, income, and debt gaps among different races and ethnicities, we shared these slides to show that wealth and debt inequalities persist to this day.

In one news story that was only a month or so old, one family’s home appraisal in Maryland jumped almost $300,000 when the family covered all evidence that a Black family lived in the house. This was just one of several articles in the last two years alone. We found similar examples from Florida, Colorado, California, and Ohio, all within the last two years.

After that, we began a conversation about how the bankruptcy system and rules might unintentionally have a disparate impact on all low-income people, including many persons of color. As one example, we displayed this form from the bankruptcy court in Connecticut, which essentially announces the dismissal of chapter 7 cases with little explanation of why, before a debtor can even respond:

CT form

After groups in our session shared about problems, they came up with a list of things we could do within the system to help make it fairer for low-income people and persons of color, even without amending the Bankruptcy Code. Several judges shared things they already do to help low-income persons, including creating alternative systems for communicating with the court and for filling documents, for pro se persons without PACER, as well as creating a fund for translators for pro se debtors.

We seek more input on this topic from our CreditSlips readers. What have you seen happen in bankruptcy court, by way of local practice or rule, that could have a disparate impact on low-income people, many of whom are persons of color? In what ways might we tweak the system, even a little, to help ameliorate this impact? We appreciate your thoughts in the chat or to either of us by email. We plan to gather everything we learn and write about it. As most of us know, the little things are often the big things when it comes to equity justice.

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  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

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