Workers Tell the Illinois Senate That They Need a Raise in the Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Days

At a subject matter hearing last week before the Illinois Senate, workers and advocates spoke about the great need for an increase in the state minimum wage (currently at $8.25 an hour) and access to paid sick days. Minimum wage worker Gloria Davis gave an account of the difficulties she faces subsisting on such a low wage, and home care worker Gail Hamilton spoke of her need for paid sick days, mainly so as not to put her clients at risk if she is ill. Restaurant owner Mark Forinash told Senators that paying his workers far above the minimum wage and providing access to benefits increases worker productivity and is a determining factor in the success of his business.

Opponents, including a business owner, a spokesperson from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and representatives from the Illinois and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, argued that these reforms would be serious job killers that would cause a reduction in employee hours and benefits and ultimately business closures.

While these are certainly not new refrains, they have gained traction among opponents despite their inaccuracies. In 2013 the Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded that increases in the minimum wage often have little to no impact on employment levels for low-wage workers. Generally, employers are able to shift or cut costs without dismissing employees, and they often see cost savings through reduced turnover and increased productivity. Moreover, the small increase in costs resulting from a raise in the minimum wage typically represents a modest portion of expenses for businesses. Municipal-level projections echo this conclusion. San Francisco recently voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2018, and a study conducted by University of California, Berkeley projected increases in operating costs to be only 0.2% for retailers and 3.0% for restaurants.  

Paid sick days

Paid sick days can also lead to reduced turnover and increased productivity. It is estimated that the decreased productivity when employees work while sick costs the national economy $160 billion each year. While the opponents testifying before the Illinois Senate claimed that paid sick days will surely lead to job loss, evidence from Connecticut, the first state to enact paid sick days, suggests otherwise. Since the law’s implementation, few employers in Connecticut have made reductions in employee hours and the industry most affected by the law—leisure and hospitality—has actually seen job growth in recent years.

The fate of an increase in the state minimum wage and enactment of paid sick days is unclear. The Shriver Center and its coalition partners remain hopeful that a paid sick days bill will pass the Illinois General Assembly this year along with a minimum wage increase to $11 (phased in over three years) with no strings attached--no language that would prevent local governments from enacting their own minimum wage laws, as Chicago has done, or providing tax credits to businesses that pay low wages, which incentivizes paying low wages and could devastate Illinois’s already precarious budget situation.

 

Chicago Gets a Raise

Chicago is a city with a proud working class tradition. Carl Sandberg called it the “stormy, husky, brawling City of Big Shoulders.” Yet, in recent years the hard work of many low-wage Chicagoans has failed to support them. Although the cost of living has increased and the supply of affordable housing has dropped, the minimum wage has remained static.

That’s about to change. The City of Chicago Minimum Wage Ordinance will raise the minimum wage from $8.25/hour to $10/hour starting on July 1st. This will affect more than 200,000 workers and their families. With this ordinance, Chicago joins a number of cities across the country that, in the face of federal inaction, have raised their minimum wages.

Minimum wage infographic

Chicago’s minimum wage will continue to increase incrementally on every July 1st until 2019, when it will reach $13/hour. After 2020, it will be annually indexed to the Consumer Price Index. Ultimately, this will raise the wages of approximately 410,000 Chicagoans (nearly 31% of the city’s work force) and lift 70,000 people out of poverty.

Tipped workers are not left out of the equation. Their wages will increase from the current rate of $4.95 to $5.45 on July 1, and then be annually adjusted. And, notably, the ordinance covers domestic workers, a group that has historically not been afforded employment protections like workers in other industries.

The Shriver Center continues its advocacy work to raise the minimum wage at the state level. Illinois’s current minimum wage of $8.25 an hour is unlivable, and 110,000 full-time Illinois workers and their families live in poverty. No one who works for a living should live in poverty. 

Moving forward, Chicago’s minimum raise increase will offer many low-wage workers a real chance to secure economic opportunity and upward mobility. Now, Chicago’s minimum wage workers will be able to take some of the weight off of their “Big Shoulders.”


 

A Critical Tool to Advance Fair Housing Is Upheld by the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to keep a key piece of a landmark civil rights law intact this week in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project. In its 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the disparate impact theory under the Fair Housing Act (FHA)—an important law passed in 1968 to increase fair housing opportunities for minority populations, decrease segregation, and eliminate discrimination in housing.

Sadly, 40 years after Congress enacted the FHA, segregation and unequal access to housing for minorities remain the norm. Decades of discriminatory policies and practices like exclusionary zoning, urban renewal, and redlining have perpetuated segregation and led to devastating effects on low-income and minority communities. These effects were magnified by the foreclosure crisis, which flowed in large part from the discriminatory practices of subprime lenders in minority neighborhoods.

The disparate impact theory of proving discrimination is critical to combating these effects, because there is often insufficient evidence to meet the higher burden of proving intentional discrimination—also known as disparate treatment. As Justice Kennedy clarified in Thursday’s decision, the disparate impact theory “permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification as disparate treatment.” The Obama Administration has relied on the disparate impact theory to force important settlements with lending institutions accused of discriminatory practices, and to challenge local government policies that limit the housing opportunities available to racial minorities. 

The disparate impact theory is also a critical tool for responding to the spread of overly broad criminal background screening policies applied to housing applicants, and the increasing number of local governments passing crime-free and nuisance property ordinances under the guise of combatting crime. Although seemingly neutral, these ordinances have serious, harmful, and discriminatory consequences. By subjecting entire households to eviction when the police are called repeatedly to particular rental properties, these ordinances frequently punish domestic violence survivors for the acts of their abusers. They also reduce the supply of affordable rental housing in communities and target renters, who are disproportionately racial minorities, on the basis of minor offenses.

These are just some examples that demonstrate why disparate impact theory is a critical tool to advance fair housing throughout the country. Armed with today’s decision, advocates can continue to develop this tool to combat the ongoing harmful effects of segregation and discrimination. Beyond upholding claims based on disparate impact theory under the FHA, the Court confirms that this theory provides advocates with the ability to stop local governments from enforcing “arbitrary and, in practice, discriminatory ordinances.” 

Although today’s decision represents a great victory for housing advocates, it does include some warnings for those charged with implementing the FHA. It clarifies, for example, that courts will be prevented from using racial targets or quotas to remedy discrimination. There also remains the risk that the FHA will face new legislative challenges. As the Shriver Center’s Poverty Scorecard highlighted, proposals to undermine the disparate impact theory were brought forward in Congress this session, including HB 265, which would have prevented the Department of Justice from using disparate impact theory in enforcing the FHA. 

This case highlights the critical role of the FHA in the broader landscape of civil rights protections, and advocates can continue to develop its use in remedying the injustice of ongoing residential segregation and discrimination in our communities. As Justice Kennedy stated, “The FHA must play an important part in avoiding the . . . grim prophecy that ‘[o]ur Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” 

Millions Can Keep Health Coverage Because of the Supreme Court's Decision in King v. Burwell

Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, which upheld tax credits for 6.4 million Americans, is a big story. It has implications for health care policy, tax policy, even presidential politics. But the most important story is about the individuals who count on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for medical and financial security.

Take John, a 61-year-old industrial electrician, who was recently laid off from his job due to early onset Parkinson’s disease. His family now survives on income from retirement savings of about $30,000 a year. Although he always had health insurance through his job, John is now unable to work, and he and his wife obtain health coverage through the federal Marketplace. John receives a tax credit of $800 a month, leaving him with a monthly health insurance premium of $240. His health plan provides good coverage, which is important to John, because his treatment for Parkinson’s disease without health insurance would be extremely expensive.

The ACA is working for John and people like him. In fact, more than 10 million people now have quality, affordable health coverage through the Marketplaces who didn’t have it before. That includes 294,000 people who selected a plan and have paid their premiums in the Illinois Marketplace. Moreover, fewer Americans are uninsured: Gallup polls show a national uninsured rate of 11.9%, which is a 5.3% drop from 2013.

Because of the Supreme Court’s decision today in King, John and others like him can keep the tax credits that subsidize their health insurance coverage. In Illinois—one of the 34 states impacted by this decision—over 232,000 Marketplace enrollees (almost 80% of all enrollees) will now be able to keep their premium tax credits. Since each Illinois Marketplace enrollee receives an average tax credit of $211 per month, that totals $49 million in tax credits in the state.

This decision is a significant victory for millions of Americans working hard to join or remain in the middle class. Most of those who use the premium tax credits are in working families, either employees or entrepreneurs. Now, with tax credits intact, these families, many of whom earn less than $25,000, can continue to access the health care services that they need. In addition, this decision ensures a more certain future for the Affordable Care Act, which has brought health care coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans. 

The Shriver Center will continue to monitor the impact of the Supreme Court's decision in King and will continue to work with our state and federal partners to advocate for high-quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans. We will be hosting a webinar with EverThrive Illinois on June 30 at 2:00 pm to discuss the implications of momentous decision. Please join us then!

 

Health Coverage at Risk for Illinois Children and Families in King v. Burwell

This blog post was coauthored by the Center for Children and Families of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will rule on King v. Burwell (King), a case that could have far-reaching effects on health coverage in Illinois and across the country. The court will rule on whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows consumers to receive tax credits to help pay for insurance in the states like Illinois that did not set up their own health insurance marketplaces. When Congress wrote and passed the ACA, drafters agreed that the tax credits would be available in all states. However, opponents of the law have latched onto their own interpretation and are seeking to undermine the ACA by denying tax credits to those who sign up for coverage through Healthcare.gov. In Illinois, families and individuals sign up for private coverage and obtain their tax credits through Healthcare.gov because the state did not set up its own state-based marketplace.

According to the Department of Heath and Human Services, about 7% of Illinois’s marketplace enrollees are children, meaning more than 20,000 Illinois kids could be among those who lose coverage. And even more children would be put at risk when their parents lose health coverage, as that impacts the health and financial security of the whole family.

In addition, as many as 408,000 Illinoisans could go uninsured if the court rules for King, according to The Urban Institute. Illinois’s uninsurance rate has dipped to 11% due to tax credits and the Medicaid expansion. A ruling that takes tax credits away from those enrolled through Healthcare.gov would reverse the positive trend and add to the ranks of the uninsured by pricing more Illinoisans out of the health insurance market.

If that wasn’t bad enough, things could get even worse. Experts predict that a bad ruling will cause health insurance premiums to spike for millions of Americans who have health insurance in the individual market, including those who currently receive premium tax credits and those who would not receive premium tax credits regardless of King. Legal experts also suggest that a favorable ruling for King could have implications for Medicaid funding in states that did not set up their own state-based marketplace.

Everyone involved in the health care system, including hospitals, providers and insurance companies, strongly disagrees with the challengers’ position. This is a political tactic from opponents of the ACA to dismantle the law.

With so much at stake, we’ll be following the case closely and will let you know about the ruling and its implications for Illinois’s children and families shortly after the Court issues its decision. 

 

Politics Aside, Let's Focus on the Budget

Below is a sample of headlines news outlets have used lately to describe the budget process in Springfield:

“Coming this summer: Rauner versus Democrats”

“Gov. Rauner readies for combat with Madigan and Cullerton”

“Madigan sends message to Rauner with budget vote”

“Gov. Rauner launches offensive in budget battle”

While some are preoccupied with discussing personalities, tactics, and which politicians deserve the most blame, what Illinois families want to know is how different budget proposals will affect their everyday lives. 

With political polarization in Springfield the focus, many have ignored the diverse group of Illinois citizens that have formed a consensus on how to fix the state’s budget. Business leaders, human service providers, educators, seniors, and everyday families from across the state are telling lawmakers and the governor to choose revenue to avoid deep cuts that would grievously harm children, families, communities, and the economy. Many are amplifying their voice through the Responsible Budget Coalition, a diverse group of 200 organizations from around the state committed to protecting vital services by choosing to raise revenue.

Illinois residents expect legislators and the governor to craft a budget that makes it possible for working families to make ends meet, enables children to develop and prosper, provides for our veterans, and ensures independence and security for our seniors and those with disabilities. They expect a commitment to public safety and other vital services that local governments provide, higher education that is affordable and accessible, and investments in infrastructure that allow for a strong economy. They expect the governor and the General Assembly to invest in low-cost, prevention measures rather than expensive treatment later on. 

Corporate and individual income tax rates automatically dropped by 25% this year, draining billions from the budget. The governor and lawmakers will have to raise revenue in order to continue to make these necessary investments.

Springfield can look to three budget analyses released in May on how to protect important public investments while eliminating the budget shortfall. The analyses come from the business-backed Civic Federation, the independent experts at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and the children’s advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children. These analyses have a great deal in common.

Each of these fiscal experts identified expiring corporate and individual income tax rates as the primarily cause of the state’s $6.6 billion budget deficit. Each noted how investment in public services drives economic growth and strengthens families and communities. Each recommended that lawmakers choose revenue over steep cuts to vital services. Finally, each suggested modernizing the sales tax to include additional services, raising corporate taxes, taxing some retirement income, and raising individual income tax rates as options for preventing damaging cuts.

The Voices for Illinois Children report laid out a menu of revenue options, providing the governor and the General Assembly with many choices of how to form an agreement that produces an adequate amount of revenue.

As of this writing, neither the General Assembly nor the governor has produced a balanced budget. Neither has included new revenue in a budget proposal.  

Politicians must stop arguing about whose plan is more “phony” and “reckless” and instead work on an adequate revenue package that will not result in harm being done to children, families, communities, and the economy. The longer the governor and General Assembly wait to reach an agreement, the more they threaten the delivery of vital services.

What’s important in this budget debate is not whether Governor Rauner, Speaker Madigan, or President Cullerton get what they want, but whether Illinois children, families, and communities get what they need.

Join the Responsible Budget Coalition in calling for the General Assembly and the governor to prioritize people over politics by choosing revenue.

Americans Expect Their Elected Officials to Address Housing Affordability

On June 9, the MacArthur Foundation released the results of its 2015 How Housing Matters study. This nationwide survey of adults was designed to help the Foundation understand the public’s experiences, attitudes, and perspectives about housing. The survey also documents respondents’ attitudes on how to address housing trends and challenges.

Not surprisingly, the results are disappointing. The survey reveals the public is severely pessimistic about current and future prospects for social mobility, and that housing in particular is front and center to those concerns. Respondents consider stable housing to be among the most significant factors that allow people to secure a middle-class lifestyle, but also consider it among the most difficult to achieve. Moreover, respondents still perceive foreclosure and housing affordability to be major problems – especially for Millennials and minorities, who most believe are being left behind others in the post-recession economic recovery.

The vast majority of survey respondents want their federal, state and local elected officials to address housing affordability. While many respondents have an unclear vision for, and lack of confidence in, their elected officials, they nonetheless want government and the private sector involved. 

Congress should take heed of these views. As the economy and housing market continue to recover, now is not the time to cut back federal funding for programs that encourage housing stability, economic recovery, and housing mobility. On June 9, the House of Representatives passed FY16 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Act (H.R. 2577). 
This House bill drastically undercuts existing federal housing funds and continues the sequestration cuts resulting from the Budget Control Act. If allowed to move forward, non-defense discretionary funding would be established at its lowest level on record even though the need for these programs remains at historic highs. The final outcome of these appropriations remains to be seen, as President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, and the Senate may introduce its own version. 

One major concern if this moves forward as passed by the House is that National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) funds would be directed away from creating affordable rental housing – the NHTF's original purpose – despite plans for the NHTF finally to have been implemented in 2016. Congress should once and for all take steps to fund the NHTF and use it to increase affordable housing for extremely low-income households.

Beyond funding, federal leaders should continue initiatives to prevent discrimination and ​promote racial integration, including finalizing HUD’s proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. Congress took the wrong approach when it passed an amendment to prohibit HUD from carrying it out. Billions of federal dollars are sent each year from HUD to local and state governments and public housing authorities, and this rule would help ensure that those recipients use the funds to advance the important purposes of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Congress should also recognize what this survey shows the public knows: that the foreclosure crisis is not yet over. Congress should renew the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, which sunset at the end of 2014. Local leaders should also not wait for Congress to do its job, and should pass their own measures to protect renters who are innocent victims of the foreclosure crisis.​ ​

The 2015 How Housing Matters survey affirms that the public is aware of our country’s affordable housing crisis and expects their elected officials to act.  Elected officials need to step up and meet these expectations.

 

An Invisible Hand: Engaging People on Poverty Through Art

An Invisible HandWhy are Americans ambivalent about poverty? One out of six of us, including one out of three African Americans (and only slightly fewer Hispanics), and over one out of five children, is poor. In recent years, vast numbers who thought themselves safely in the middle class stared poverty in the face, losing jobs, homes, life savings, and peace of mind. And growing numbers are born into poverty, economic isolation, and racial and ethnic disadvantage. Most Americans encounter poverty every day, on their commute or at their work, or within their own families or relationships. Yet we fail to take action to fight it.

Our apparent ambivalence consists of, on the one hand, a continuing sense of generosity and concern about people in need and, on the other hand, a tendency to depersonalize and blame people for their own poverty. We embrace of the concepts of “fairness” and equal opportunity, but we are also reluctant to address the problems of poverty head-on through public policy. To some extent this is a symptom of the major ideological dichotomy in American life in our times—the vastly oversimplified argument over “personal responsibility” versus “community”—and what that means for the role of government in solving problems. This ideological confrontation has led to gridlock in American political life. It has hampered pragmatic problem-solving.

We must put the ideologies aside and focus on the realities around us. Art can help us do that. It can show us who people living in poverty are and what their surroundings are like. It can show us their personal, family, and community challenges, as well as their remarkable persistence and courage in trying to deal with these obstacles. It can show us individuals as well as trends.

Socially engaged art can also illustrate policies that help as well as policies that need improvement. By literally and metaphorically showing us truths about the nature of poverty and people who live in it, art can help us understand that this is no region for ideological over-simplification and stereotyping, either of people or of policy solutions. It is a region for pragmatic problem-solving and constant effort.

That’s why I’m grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with David Weinberg Photography on their current exhibition, An Invisible Hand. Through the images and sounds presented in this exhibition, visitors can begin to learn more about the diverse experiences of the 48 million Americans living in poverty.

Poverty is as multi-faceted as people and communities are. That should not be intimidating. If poverty’s causes are diverse and complex in each person’s case, so are the factors that can help them escape it. That’s why the Shriver Center works across multiple issue areas. We tackle the many interrelated issues that affect poverty and focus on laws and policies that will make systemic change. Often one increment of fairness or opportunity is enough to tip the scales in a positive direction.

We hope that you will join us in furthering the conversation about poverty at An Invisible Hand. Winning the fight against poverty depends on public understanding and concern. We should end our ambivalence and get focused on solving the problem of poverty.

Progress Against Poverty: Shriver Center Advocates Win Legislative Victories in the Illinois General Assembly

The scheduled Illinois legislative session ended on May 31, but a special session will continue into at least June due to budget-related matters. We, however, want to pause and thank the bill sponsors listed below for their efforts to support and protect the interests of individuals and families with low-incomes. 

We also want to thank all the supporters of the Shriver Center's work. Your phone calls to legislators and electronic filing of support during hearing made a difference! If you have not already, please sign up to receive legislative action alerts and updates from the Shriver Center.

Community Justice

The Shriver Center’s Community Justice Unit works for the adoption of laws and policies that increase access to employment, education, healthcare, housing, and more for men and women who have made mistakes in their past and turned their lives around.

Eliminating the Lifetime Bar to Employment in Schools. HB 494, which has been passed by both chambers and awaits the governor’s signature, ensures that individuals with old convictions for drugs or offenses attendant to human-trafficking and homelessness will no longer be denied the opportunity to work or volunteer in schools. Instead, local schools will be given the discretion to consider applicants with these records seven years after they complete their sentences. Advocacy for this bill was led by individuals with records along with the Shriver Center and a diverse coalition of community members, social service organizations, and advocacy organizations. The bill was sponsored by Representative Kelly Cassidy and Senator Patricia Van Pelt.

Reducing Waiting Periods for Sealing of Convictions. HB 3149, sponsored by Representative John Cabello and Senator Terry Link, passed out of the General Assembly with true bipartisan support. The bill promotes self-sufficiency and rewards motivated, hard-working men and women who have turned their lives around and sought higher education by allowing them to ask the courts to limit who can look at their old record (process called “sealing”) prior to the required four-year waiting period.

Expanding Eligibility to Certificate of Good Conduct. HB 3475which was crafted and advocated for by the Shriver Center, will allow individuals with felony convictions involving violence to become eligible to petition for Certificates of Good Conduct (a certificate awarded to individuals that can prove they are rehabilitated, law-abiding citizens which will aid in gaining employment). This enables individuals to gain access to employment, occupational licenses, and other opportunities following completion of their sentences. This bill was sponsored by Representative Rita Mayfield and Senator Kimberly Lightford.

Increasing Much Needed Access to the Sealing of Criminal Records. SB 844 allows individuals with old convictions to petition to limit who can look at their criminal records two years after completing their supervision (making this uniform, as some supervisions required a significantly longer waiting period) or three years after completing the sentence for their conviction (versus four years). The Shriver Center drafted, worked to introduce, and advocated for the passage of a bill that would allow people to access record sealing sooner than currently allowed by law. The bill was sponsored Representative Esther Golar and Senator James Claybourne. 

Economic Justice

The Shriver Center’s Economic Justice Unit works to ensure access to income supports, such as cash assistance and food and nutrition benefits, which provide a basic level of economic stability. We also advocate for programs that create an opportunity to get ahead, including child care assistance and low-income tax credits.

Defending critical public benefits. The Shriver Center and its coalition partners successfully blocked all of the legislative proposals this session that would have decreased access to critical public benefits and/or stigmatized or dehumanized their recipients. These included bills that would have (1) mandated that all applicants for and recipients of public benefits pass a drug test, (2) required a photograph on the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card used by recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to redeem their benefits, and (3) limited SNAP recipients’ food choices.

Expanding SNAP Eligibility to Include Working Families with High Living Expenses. The Shriver Center and Heartland Alliance led the successful advocacy effort to pass SB 1847, which expands eligibility for SNAP benefits to 40,000 low-income working families in Illinois. These families will receive, on average, $125 per month in SNAP benefits to supplement their food budgets. SNAP benefits are 100% federally funded—SB 1847 will inject $60 million in federal funds into Illinois’s economy at no cost to the state. SB 1847 passed the Senate, passed the House with strong bipartisan support, and moves to the governor’s desk for his signature. The bill was sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss and Representative Robyn Gabel. 

Health Care Justice

Advocates in the Shriver Center’s Health Care Justice Unit work to improve health care in both public and private programs in Illinois, to continue operation of the outreach and enrollment assister program, which helps Illinois residents obtain health coverage, and to assure prompt and accurate eligibility, enrollment, and reenrollment procedures in the state.

Defending Against Medicaid Cuts. The General Assembly rejected massive cuts (over $1.5 billion) to Illinois health care programs that Governor Rauner sought in his proposed fiscal year 2016 budget. Instead, the House and Senate passed budgets for the relevant state departments that that leave intact current eligibility standards and categories of covered health care services while making modest reductions (2.25%) in provider rates. The public had responded strongly in opposition to the proposed cuts. Thousands of people called or emailed their representatives and senators, and thousands more went to Springfield to rally against cuts and speak in person with legislators. Many people movingly described the harm the proposed cuts would do to them or their family members at hearings in Springfield and Chicago. 

The struggle for funding for needed services is not over, however. Governor Rauner is threatening to veto the budgets passed by the General Assembly. We urge the Governor to join with the General Assembly to enact laws securing the revenue needed to cover the budgeted services.  

Improving Recordkeeping on Medicaid Enrollment. The Medicaid Managed Care Transparency Act, HB 2731, requires the state Medicaid agency and Medicaid Managed Care companies to report monthly, on the Medicaid agency website, information on Medicaid enrollment, HMO enrollment, language preferences of Medicaid applicants and beneficiaries, and data on successful and unsuccessful Medicaid reenrollments. The information in these reports will help advocates identify glitches in the enrollment and reenrollment process that are causing denials and terminations of eligible people. HB 2731 passed unanimously and will be sent to the governor's desk for his signature.

Housing Justice

The Shriver Center’s Housing Justice Unit works to expand housing options for low-income individuals and to ensure that tenants’ rights are honored and protected in state law and policy.

Protecting Survivors of Domestic Violence. SB 1547, sponsored by Senator Toi Hutchinson and Representative Anthony DeLuca, protects survivors of violence and persons with disabilities who need police assistance. Its passage will ensure that no more survivors of domestic violence or people with disabilities are harmed through the enforcement of flawed local ordinances. With the support of over 80 organizations throughout the state, and bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, the bill unanimously passed both chambers and will be sent to the governor. The ongoing efforts of both advocates and community members have been critical in ensuring that this bill passed the General Assembly and will ultimately become law in Illinois.

Women's Law and Policy

The Shriver Center’s Women’s Law and Policy Project (WLPP) promotes legal and policy solutions to improve the lives of low-income women and girls.

Granting Employment Protections to Domestic Workers. Domestic workers play a critical role in the Illinois economy, working to ensure the health and prosperity of Illinois families and freeing others to participate in the workforce. Despite this, domestic workers have historically been excluded from state law protections extended to workers in other industries. The Shriver Center’s WLPP is leading the effort of the Domestic Workers’ Coalition to secure passage of HB 1288, the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. The legislation grants domestic workers basic employment protections, such as the right to the state’s minimum wage, the right to be free from sexual harassment, and the right to one day of rest in a workweek. The bill’s sponsors are Representative Elizabeth Hernandez and Senator Ira Silverstein. HB 1288 passed the House on May 29th with a veto-proof majority. The bill is currently pending in the Senate. The Senate will act on the bill when it reconvenes on June 9th.  

Increasing the State’s Minimum Wage. The current minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 an hour—about $17,000 a year. Inaction at the federal and state level has allowed the minimum wage to erode over time. Had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.90 today. This year, the WLPP and its allies continue to advocate for a raise in the state’s minimum wage, phased in to $11 an hour. Currently, no minimum wage bills are moving in the Illinois House or the Senate. However we expect an increase in the minimum wage to be part of the negotiations on the budget and other topics between the House and Senate Democrats and Governor Rauner.

Paid Sick Days for All Workers. Forty-three percent of private sector workers in Illinois (over 2.5 million) have no right to a single paid sick day. Workers can be fired for missing work if they are sick or caring for their sick child or elderly parent. The WLPP is working with the Illinois Earned Sick Time Coalition to pass legislation that gives all workers in Illinois access to paid sick days. The legislation introduced in the Illinois General Assembly allows employees to earn up to seven paid sick days (or 56 hours) per year. Senator Toi Hutchinson is the Senate sponsor, and Representative Christian Mitchell is the House sponsor. Unfortunately, neither bill passed out of committee. However, we are hopeful that paid sick days will be included as part of the negotiations on the budget and other topics between the House and Senate Democrats and Governor Rauner.


 

April Brings a Fresh Start: Expungement of Criminal Records on the Clearinghouse Community

Clearance ProjectSeventy million American adults have an arrest or conviction record. The resulting economic impact to families and communities is devastating. A person with a criminal record faces barriers to securing employment, stable housing, and higher education—essential ingredients for a chance at a better future.

That’s why in April on the Clearinghouse Community we focused on how to represent clients with criminal records.

Our Clearinghouse Article for April, Expungement: A Gateway to Work, looks at how expunging a person’s criminal record—that is, ameliorating the record to the legal extent possible—can help clients find steady employment. The author of the article, Peggy Stevenson, directs the Record Clearance Project at San José State University. In her article, she describes the work of the Record Clearance Project and outlines some practice models for delivering expungement assistance.

I had the opportunity to talk with Peggy and one of her students, Rochelle Rotea, about the Record Clearance Project and how its expungement work affects not only the clients but also the undergraduates who are trained to represent them. The recording of our half-hour conversation is available to view on the Clearinghouse Community.

Sometimes even after a criminal case has been expunged from a person's record, commercial background screeners report that case to a potential employer. Our April advocacy story, Preventing Background Screeners from Reporting Expunged Criminal Cases, written by Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, lays out the problem and describes recent litigation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to stop the practice.  

Our monthly interview to introduce an advocate to the community had a criminal-records focus, too. April’s interviewee was Todd Belcore, the Shriver Center’s own Community Justice Lead Attorney. Todd told us about his legal practice and one of the clients he assisted to clear his criminal record and pursue his chosen career.

The effect of criminal records on families and communities is not new ground for the Shriver Center’s publications. In fact, last year we compiled a featured collection of articles from the past few years of Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy that looked at criminal records. And in February of this year, the Shriver Center published a report by Marie Claire Tran-Leung, When Discretion Means Denial: A National Perspective on Criminal Records Barriers to Federally Subsidized Housing.

The attention to how criminal records harm the economic well-being of families and entire communities could not come at a better time. Unlikely alliances—such as the Center for American Progress and Koch Industries and Sens. Cory Booker and Rand Paul—have formed in the past year under a mutual understanding that the criminal justice system needs serious reform. As the national movement grows to repair the criminal justice system and the millions of people hampered by arrest and conviction records, legal services and equal justice advocates can use the remedies available—such as expungement—to give their clients a leg up in the meantime.

Spring Legislative Session Update

It’s the midpoint of Illinois Governor Rauner’s first legislative session, and the Shriver Center is hard at work in Springfield. Shriver Center advocates are pursuing legislation that will advance the interests of low- and middle-income Illinoisans. Amidst budget cuts to key programs, our advocates work to maintain and expand access to these programs, preserve and defend housing and employment opportunities, and forestall measures that would inhibit progress the state has made.

Below is an update on some of the legislative initiatives the Shriver Center is pursuing. Please join us in supporting the passage of these bills.

Community Justice

Lifetime bar bill. HB 494 removes lifetime bars to employment in schools for individuals with old drug, prostitution, and public indecency convictions so schools have the freedom to hire applicants with old convictions if the school deems it appropriate. The bill passed out of the Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum and Policies Committee with an amendment that includes special provisions for certain narcotics offenses. It is now on the House floor waiting for a vote.

Admonishment bill. HB 2569 updates the admonishment instructions given to defendants so that defendants are properly educated on the consequences of pleading guilty to a crime. Specifically, the bill requires that defendants be informed that a conviction will impact their ability to retain or obtain housing in the public or private market; acquire loans for educational or other purposes; enroll in certain degree programs; retain or obtain employment; retain or obtain an occupational or driver's license; possess a firearm; and retain or obtain custody of a child. The bill passed out of the House unanimously and is now in the Senate awaiting committee assignment with Senator Terry Link as Chief Sponsor. 

Sealing of convictions. HB 3149 allows people who earn a vocational certification, GED, high school diploma, or some other degree to petition to have their eligible convictions sealed prior to the statutorily required four-year waiting period. The bill passed unanimously out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and passed out of the House with an overwhelming majority. The bill does have strong bipartisan support, and advocates are optimistic about its passage.

Health care background check. HB 3212 removes lifetime bars in the health care sector by amending the Health Care Workers Background Check Act. It replaces language prohibiting a health care employer from hiring, employing, or retaining any individual in a position with duties involving direct care for clients if the individual is convicted of committing specified offenses with language providing these employers with more discretion in hiring. The bill failed to be voted on by the Health Care Licenses Committee prior to the March deadline, and it has now been re-referred to the Rules Committee. 

Fair Sentencing Act. HB 3322 allows people to petition the courts to be resentenced if the penalty for the offense they were convicted of is modified by the Illinois General Assembly in some way so that their sentence will be consistent with what is current law. The bill passed out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee with a close vote of 9 for and 6 against. It is now on the House floor awaiting a vote from the full chamber. 

Certificate of Good Conduct. HB 3475 expands eligibility for Certificates of Good Conduct to include people who have committed non-sex-related forcible felonies. This allows people who have made grave mistakes to have at least one avenue beyond clemency to demonstrate they have turned their lives around so they can better care for themselves and their children. The bill passed unanimously out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and passed out of the House with an overwhelming majority.

Sealing Criminal Records. HB 4021 shortens the waiting period to petition for sealing so people who have gone three years without committing a crime after completing their sentences have a chance to petition for sealing. The bill passed unanimously out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and is now on the House floor awaiting a vote from the full chamber.

Budget and Tax Justice

Ensuring adequate revenue to meet needs. The Shriver Center is a leader of the Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC), a large and diverse coalition of about 200 organizations working to secure adequate revenue to support state priorities and make smart investments. The RBC has established a profile as a leading opponent of Governor Rauner’s proposed cuts to vital services and has been working closely with Senate and House staff on hearings into the budget. The Shriver Center’s Budget and Tax Justice Unit continues to work through the 2015 session to ensure that critical programs that serve low-income people throughout the state are sustained.

Economic Justice

Defending critical public benefits. The Shriver Center, working with other advocates, successfully defeated all of the legislative proposals this session that would have decreased access to critical public benefits and/or stigmatized or dehumanized their recipients. These included bills that would have (1) mandated that all applicants for and recipients of public benefits pass a drug test, (2) required a photograph on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) EBT card recipients use to redeem their benefits, and (3) limited SNAP recipients’ food choices. 

Making working families with high living expenses eligible for SNAP benefits. SB 1847 expands eligibility for SNAP benefits to 40,000 working families in Illinois. These families would receive an average of $125 per month in SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits are 100% federally funded, and this expansion would bring $60 million into the state. SB 1847 has cleared the Senate Human Services Committee and will be taken up by the full Senate in the next two weeks.

Health Care Justice

Medicaid cuts. Shriver Center advocates along with allies across the state are working to stop the massive cuts to health care Illinois Governor Rauner proposed in his fiscal year 2016 budget (starting July 1, 2015). The governor wants to cut $1.5 billion from the Medicaid budget by eliminating care for whole classes of people, eliminating services such as adult dental, limiting access to therapies, and reducing payment rates to providers. His proposals ignore key facts about the Medicaid program; Illinois providers are among the lowest paid in the nation, and the Medicaid program's costs per beneficiary are also among the lowest in the nation. Moreover, these proposals, if enacted, would unravel progress in improving quality, outcomes, and costs made in the last several years. Shriver Center advocates work at General Assembly Appropriations hearings and through the media to inform the public about the painful impact of the proposed cuts on vulnerable people and the likelihood that, in the long run, these cuts will result in sicker people who need more expensive care.    

The Shriver Center is working with allies for the passage of
SB 1729 and HB 2731, identical bills requiring the state Medicaid agency to make available Medicaid enrollment and renewal data and data related to the quality in Medicaid managed care plans.

The Shriver Center is also working for passage of HR 253, a resolution stating that General Assembly members do not support changes to the Medicaid program that leave people without access to medically necessary care or erroneously result in eligible people being terminated from or denied Medicaid coverage.

Housing Justice

Protecting survivors of domestic violence. SB 1547, sponsored by Senator Toi Hutchinson, protects survivors of violence and persons with disabilities who need police assistance. Its passage will ensure that no more survivors of domestic violence or people with disabilities are harmed through the enforcement of flawed local ordinances. It passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March and now has bipartisan support—over 20 co-sponsors in the Senate, and over 80 supporting organizations throughout the state. Because SB 1547 will require a two-thirds vote out of the Senate, it has a more difficult journey than most bills. For that reason, the ongoing efforts of both advocates and community members are critical in the coming weeks to ensure that this bill continues to move through the General Assembly and ultimately becomes law in Illinois. 

Women's Law and Policy

Granting employment protections to domestic workers. Domestic workers play a critical role in the Illinois economy, working to ensure the health and prosperity of Illinois families and freeing others to participate in the workforce. Despite this, domestic workers have historically been excluded from state law protections extended to other industries. The Shriver Center’s Women’s Law and Policy Project (WLPP), as part of the Domestic Workers’ Coalition, is advocating for the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. This legislation grants domestic workers employment protections, such as the right to the state’s minimum wage, the right to be free from sexual harassment, and the right to one day of rest in a workweek. The bill’s sponsors are Representative Elizabeth Hernandez and Senator Ira Silverstein. Please note that the current bill number is likely to change in the next few weeks. 

Increasing the state’s minimum wage. The current minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 an hour—about $17,000 a year. Inaction at the federal and state level has allowed the minimum wage to erode over time. Had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.90 today. This year, the WLPP and its allies continue to advocate for a raise in the state’s minimum wage, phased in to $11 an hour. Currently, there are bills in both the Senate and the House, but the current bill numbers are likely to change in the next few weeks.

Paid sick days for all workers. Forty-three percent of private sector workers in Illinois (over 2.5 million) have no right to a single paid sick day. Workers can be fired for missing work if they are sick or caring for their sick child or elderly parent. The WLPP is working with the Illinois Earned Sick Time Coalition to pass legislation that gives all workers in Illinois access to paid sick days. The legislation introduced in the Illinois General Assembly allows employees to earn up to seven paid sick days (or 56 hours) per year. Senator Toi Hutchinson is the Senate sponsor, and Representative Christian Mitchell is the House sponsor. Please note that the bill numbers are likely to change in the next few weeks. 

Rachel Hanley contributed significantly to this blog post. 

 

 

Thanks to the Senate for Renewing Children's Health Coverage

We applaud the U.S. Senate for passing a bill last night, 92-8, that extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The vote follows passage of identical legislation in the House and demonstrates that members of Congress overwhelmingly support the CHIP program and understand it is vital to keeping kids across the country healthy. The legislation also allocates $7.2 billion in additional funding for community health centers.

When children’s health was on the line, the U.S. Senate stepped up for millions of kids. Last night’s vote demonstrates the overwhelming popularity of CHIP and support for getting kids the health care coverage they need to succeed.

CHIP has a long history of bipartisan support, providing coverage for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t have access to affordable health care. As a result of CHIP’s implementation, coverage rates for kids across the country are at a historic high of close to 93 percent. 

CHIP funding makes it possible for Illinois to offer children of families up to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) access to affordable and comprehensive All Kids coverage. Both Illinois Senators Durbin and Kirk voted in support of this legislation. CHIP is life changer for 174,000 Illinois children. This vote demonstrates that Congress understand the impact this critical program has on millions of families and we will look to lawmakers to continue to demonstrate their support in 2017 when the program is up for renewal.

 

Join the Clearinghouse Community

Practical tips on how to collect wage judgments won for low-wage clients.

The guilty pleasure of a young leader in the antipoverty movement.

A model of using the Violence Against Women Act Amendments to protect tenants in developments financed by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

A live conversation about the 2014 Poverty Scorecard.

An examination of racial justice and the antipoverty movement.

What do all these things have in common? They are all examples of what is available on the Shriver Center’s new Clearinghouse Community site.

Launched at the end of March, the Clearinghouse Community gives antipoverty and equal justice advocates a steady stream of useful and interesting content about poverty law topics and the people who work on them. For decades advocates have relied on the Clearinghouse Review journal for high-quality articles about poverty law. The Clearinghouse Community has evolved from that history; it will host the same high-quality content, only now that content will be delivered faster and more frequently.

And best of all, readers no longer need a subscription to access this content—including the archive of Clearinghouse Review articles dating back to 1967. Readers simply need to register on the site at the link found in the top right corner of the screen.

The Clearinghouse Community will link readers to articlesadvocacy storiesfeatured collections of articles with editorial podcasts, and interviews. And it will offer opportunities to interact with and learn from your fellow community members through Google+ Hangouts on Airwebinars, and training programs. We plan to incorporate more interactivity into the site as we continue to develop it. For a fuller description of how the Clearinghouse Community came to be, take a look at the welcome message from Shriver Center President John Bouman.

Much of the initial content on the site has ties to another community—the venerable Community Legal Services (CLS) of Philadelphia. The first-ever Clearinghouse Article, Finishing What You Started: Collecting on Judgments for Low-Wage Workers, was written by Michael Hollander, a staff attorney at CLS. He also joined us for a live Google+ Hangout on Air to talk about his article and work. The first person profiled in 2015 in a short written interview was Rebecca Vallas, who began her legal career at CLS. And one of the authors of the site’s newest advocacy story, Domestic Violence and Good-Cause Evictions in Pennsylvania After the 2013 Violence Against Women Act Amendments, is Rachel Garland, a staff attorney in CLS’s housing unit.

We appreciate CLS’s strong work and its willingness to share that work with the national community of antipoverty and equal justice advocates. We look forward to highlighting more good work on the Clearinghouse Community site, beginning with April’s focus on criminal records and reentry.

We encourage you to join the Clearinghouse Community now. And be sure to sign up for our monthly email that will link you to all of that month’s new content. Welcome to the community!

Good News: House Votes to Extend CHIP Funding

 In an overwhelming 392-37 bipartisan votethe U.S. House of Representatives has voted to ensure children in Illinois and across the nation continue to get the quality health care coverage they need to succeed. Today’s bipartisan House vote to renew funding for the highly successful Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will help ensure that kids from low- and moderate-income working families continue to receive the care they need to reach their full potential.

CHIP has a long history of bipartisan support, providing coverage for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t have access to affordable health care. As a result of CHIP’s implementation, coverage rates for kids across the country are at a historic high of close to 93 percent.

We thank the members of the Illinois delegation that voted to stand up for Illinois’s kids and support this vital program. Their actions will help make sure more than 174,000 Illinois kids keep the coverage and quality care families depend on.

As the Senate takes up legislation to renew CHIP, we strongly urge them to build on the House bill by quickly passing a four-year extension of this critical program. By ensuring funding stays intact, Congress can provide the stability families and state officials need to plan without worrying that the promises Congress made for the future of CHIP won’t be kept.

Forty-two governors of both parties called on Congress to move quickly to fully fund CHIP. Most states are planning on finalizing their budgets now, and many have already factored the amount of promised federal CHIP funding into their plans. In Illinois, this means Congress must take action to pass this legislation orIllinois will have to cut at least $454 million from its 2016 budget

The message is loud and clear – CHIP is an important lifeline for Illinois children. Congress has taken an important step today and we urge members to finalize legislation quickly to provide families and states the stability they need to plan for the next four years.

Congress Has a Key Role to Play in Fighting Poverty But Has Done Too Little

Poverty Scorecard 2014It’s been five years since the official end of the Great Recession and we are seeing some signs of economic recovery. The U.S. gross domestic product grew 2.6% in 2014, the best full year increase since 2010, while gains in the stock market and corporate profits have surpassed their pre-recession levels.

Unfortunately, this growth hasn’t benefitted the vast majority of Americans. Forty-five million Americans continue to live in poverty, and millions more are only one paycheck away from joining them. Real hourly wages fell or stagnated for workers at almost all wage levels, with women and people of color continuing to receive much lower pay than men and whites. Insufficient job growth and growing reliance on low-wage work, in combination with increased costs of living for everything from health care to housing, keep low-income Americans trapped without opportunities for upward mobility.

The good news? We can do something about this if our government adopts the right policies. Poverty is a problem with multiple dimensions and solutions, and we can attack it on many fronts. We know what policy decisions are needed to sustain the economic recovery and help low-income people achieve a better life for themselves and their families.

And we know that they work. Laws passed by Congress, and even bills that are proposed but do not become law, have a profound impact on people living in poverty, for better or for worse. Last year Congress took action on three of the nation’s most important anti-poverty initiatives—the SupplementalNutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps), which helped 46 million Americans put healthy food on their tables; the Section 8 housing program, which provided housing subsidies for 5 million Americans; and the Affordable Care Act, which reduced the number of uninsured Americans by 12 million people. We know from experience that these programs can greatly alleviate the effects of poverty, just as they have done in decades past.  

Every year, the Shriver Center documents and ranks the votes of every U.S. Senator and Representative on the most important poverty-related bills from that legislative session. This year, in consultation with a group of 20 experts on poverty-related topics, we chose the 7 votes in the Senate and the 18 votes in the House that had a significant effect on poor people. While the votes in 2014 covered a wide range of subject areas important to low-income people, the most significant poverty-related votes were in the areas of employment, health care, and housing.

In their biggest strides to reduce poverty, members of the House and Senate worked together across party lines to reauthorize two important programs, workforce development and child care, making them significantly more responsive to the needs of millions of low-income people. In the same year, however, Congress, especially the House, attempted to advance legislation attacking anti-discrimination laws, key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, immigrant youth, and consumer protections. Legislators also obstructed bills to improve equal pay for women, raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits, protect workers from wage theft, and improve college accessibility.

The Poverty Scorecard grades each member of Congress based on his or her votes on these bills. As in past years, 2014’s Poverty Scorecard shows that many states with the highest poverty rates have Congressional delegations with the worst voting records on poverty-related issues.  We can—and must—do more to ensure that Congress acts to advance justice and opportunity for low-income Americans.

When it comes to fighting poverty, we know what to do. And so does Congress. Read the Poverty Scorecard, learn about the relevant bills that were proposed last year, and see how your Senators and Representative voted. If they are not living up to what you know they can do, hold them accountable.