After suspending late fees during the pandemic, Multnomah County Library has decided to make the change permanent: Portlanders will no longer be charged for returning books late, effective immediately.

In addition, all existing fines have been cleared.

"The practice of assessing punitive fines for late returns has locked people out, many of whom are already facing hardships," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in a statement. "The resources, support and sense of belonging found in our libraries are needed urgently during these trying times, and I'm grateful that this change will further open access to this community asset."

There will still be due dates, and library will continue to charge replacement costs. If a book has not been returned 49 days after the due date, the patron will be billed for its replacement.

The debt the library cleared today totaled $730,185 from more than 70,000 library members, 2,000 of whom had had their accounts blocked due to fines in excess of $50.

"Late fines cause some patrons to avoid using the library at all because they are unable to pay the fines and they fear having a conversation about debt," director of libraries Vailey Oehlke said in a press release. "Everyone in our community benefits when people can access the materials and resources they need to learn, grow, be creative, and make their lives better for themselves and their families. Ending fines is one way the library is taking immediate action and creating a positive change for our community."

Multnomah County Library began reopening in a limited capacity in early June.