Census Data Show Little Progress against Poverty in Illinois

According to a new report released today by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and the Coalition on Human Needs based on data released in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) on September 17th, progress in fighting poverty in Illinois remained stalled in 2014. 

The data show no significant decrease in poverty from 2013 to 2014.  1.8 million Illinoisans, or 1 in 7 of us, lived below the poverty line in 2014. The change in Illinois’s poverty rate from 14.7% in 2013 to 14.4% in 2014 is not statistically significant. The proportion of people living in deep poverty  (below 50% of the poverty line) budged a little, from 6.8% in 2013 to 6.6% in 2014. Conditions likewise failed to improve for children, with a child poverty rate of 20.2% in 2014 consistent with the 2013 rate of 20.7%.  While many tout the supposed progress we have made since the Great Recession ended, it is clear that the lives of our most vulnerable residents in Illinois have yet to improve.

Racial inequalities in Illinois are glaringly apparent.  Although 10.8% of non-Hispanic whites lived in poverty in 2014, more than 30% of all blacks and almost 20% of all Latinos lived below the poverty line. Disparities are even starker among children:  40.8% of black and 27.1% of Latino children lived in poverty during 2014, compared to only 11% of non-Hispanic white children

The ACS did show marginal improvement in the national poverty rate, which fell from 15.8% in 2013 to 15.5% in 2014. Assuming an annual  poverty reduction rate of 0.3% per year--an optimistic assumption--it would take more than 25 years to cut the overall poverty rate in half, and more than 35 years to reduce child poverty to that same level.  Clearly, we face a long and arduous journey in eradicating poverty in Illinois and around the U.S.

Despite this, we do have proven poverty fighting measures that improve the lives of those in poverty.  As I explained in a recent blog about the national poverty numbers, non-cash benefits and tax credits are highly effective tools in lifting people above the poverty threshold.  In Illinois, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) lifted 478,000 Illinoisans, including 252,000 children, out of poverty from 2011 to 2013. The EITC alone injected about $2.5 billion into Illinois’s economy in 2012. Given the proven efficacy of these poverty-fighting measures, Congress should, in the midst of a stalled war on poverty, be expanding and strengthening programs like the EITC and CTC.

Instead, Congress is debating spending bills to mend our budget deficit that, if passed, would weaken many of these programs. Illinoisans lifted out of poverty by these programs now stand on the precipice of falling back into poverty, while those already living in poverty face deeper deprivation.  For example, the House spending bill would fail to renew 28,000 existing rental vouchers in addition to 67,000 vouchers already lost to the 2013 sequestration cuts of 2013, depriving 1,360 more Illinois families of housing assistance. In a state where more than 1 in 5 low-income renters already spend more than 50% of their income on rent, further regression is not acceptable.

Some in Congress have suggested decreasing funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid in lieu of the scheduled sequestration cuts. This too is a wrongheaded approach to solving our country’s financial woes—the benefits of SNAP are too many, and the damages of reducing its funding are too apparent, to accept such cuts.  For example, SNAP lifted 205,000 Illinoisans, including 94,000 children, above the poverty line from 2009 to 2012. However, cuts at the end of 2013 reduced the average monthly SNAP benefit per person per meal from $1.57 to $1.46 in Illinois. These reductions had a major impact—research shows that the 2013 SNAP cuts increased the likelihood of household and child food insecurity by 17% among households with children receiving SNAP

While progress in fighting poverty is stalled in Illinois and improving only marginally nationwide, we still have much to lose. Efforts to reduce the budget deficit should not be put on the backs of people living in poverty, and we cannot allow Congress to pass these damaging cuts unnoticed.  Instead, we should urge Congress to offset our deficits through closing tax loopholes or ending corporate tax breaks while investing in proven anti- poverty policy measures that improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in Illinois and across the nation.

Child Care Assistance Threatened in Illinois

Child care assistance is a critical resource for low-income families. Parents with reliable, affordable child care are able to work, and to work more hours and earn a greater income, than those who do not. Research shows that parents receiving child care assistance have increased earnings of as much as $7,500 per year more than families with less assistance. Unfortunately, child care also represents a significant expense, in particular for low-income workers. The monthly cost of child care in Illinois for a family with a preschooler and a school-age child is $1,469, while the monthly earnings for a family with one minimum wage earner is a mere $1,430. Women working low-wage jobs already struggle with unpredictable schedules, little access to paid leave, and a lack of work supports overall; low-income, working women and their children need the stability that child care assistance provides.
Recent actions by the Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration threaten the availability of the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). In July, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) proposed rules that make changes to the current program, most notably lowering the maximum amount of income a family may have to be eligible for assistance, adding a child support requirement, increasing copays, and increasing the use of criminal background checks for child care providers. 
Income eligibility. The proposed rules reduce the income threshold for CCAP from 185% of the federal poverty line (FPL) to an astoundingly low 50% of the FPL for new applicants. As a result, a family of four applying for assistance would need to have income of less than $1,011 per month to be eligible. A single parent earning Illinois’s state minimum wage of $8.25 would need to work fewer than 18 hours per week to earn below the 50% threshold. Although the proposed rules allow current recipients to maintain child care at the 185% income level, the 50% threshold essentially eliminates access to safe and reliable child care for most parents newly seeking assistance. Nine out of ten families that were approved under the previous income guideline of 185% of the FPL will now be denied under the proposed income guideline.  
Child support requirement. The proposed rules also require families that include any child in the household with an absent parent to open an active collection child support case for that child with the Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) as a condition of eligibility for CCAP. This is problematic as it poses a significant danger to survivors of domestic or sexual violence who may not want to re-engage with the perpetrator. It also ignores the reality of many CCAP recipients’ family circumstances; often, the noncustodial parent is also poor and either under- or unemployed, and forcing custodial parents to cooperate with child support collection may also upset the fragile balance they have found in keeping the noncustodial parents involved in their children’s lives. 
Call to action. IDHS will hold public hearings in Chicago and Springfield to solicit feedback from community members on these proposed rules. We have heard from low-income workers who lost their new jobs because they no longer qualify for CCAP, including domestic violence survivors on the path to financial independence who were forced to return to their abusers once child care assistance was denied. If you have been or could be affected by the proposed rules, or if you are a service provider whose clients are affected, we encourage you to testify at one of the hearings. 
Witnesses must bring a written (preferably typed) copy of their testimony to submit to the hearing officer. Each testimony is limited to no more than 10 minutes. You can sign up to testify at the hearing. If you are interested in testifying or are not available to testify but have information to relate, please contact Wendy Pollack, the director of the Women’s Law and Policy Project at the Shriver Center. 
The details for the hearings are:
Tuesday, October 6th, 2015
10:00 AM-12:00PM
Michael J. Howlett Bldg. Auditorium
Second and Edwards Streets, Springfield, IL
Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Michael A. Bilandic Bldg., Room C-500, 5th Floor
160 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL
For more information on the hearings, please see the IDHS Public Hearings section of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules’ September 4th Flinn Report.
For more information on the proposed changes, see September’s WomanView article


Annual Census Bureau Report Shows Tremendous Progress in Health Insurance Coverage but Little Change in Poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau’s three reports relating to annual income and poverty, released last week, present a decidedly mixed bag of progress toward ending poverty in the United States. 

Health Insurance

The data show a dramatic drop in the number of Americans who lack health insurance in 2014, the first year that all of the policy provisions of the Affordable Care Act took full effect. In fact, the number of uninsured Americans dropped to its lowest rate since the Census Bureau began measuring it in 1987.  Nearly nine million Americans gained health insurance, and the uninsured rate fell 2.9% from 13.3% in 2013 to 10.4% in 2014. While racial and sex disparities in coverage persist, the rate of uninsured Blacks fell from 15.9% in 2013 to 11.8% in 2014, and from 17% to 13% for working-age women, indicating significant but incomplete progress. 

Official Poverty Measure

Despite these gains in health insurance coverage, the report showed no significant decline in the poverty rate. Nearly 47 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2014. That’s 14.8% of us, including 21.5% of all children. This marks the fourth year in a row in which poverty rates have failed to decline significantly. As it stands, poor people, in particular poor children, have been left behind in the recovery from the Great Recession. This stagnation in progress reducing poverty is unacceptable.

More than one in every five children is growing up in poverty in the United States. Moreover, large, enduring racial inequalities persist; Hispanic children are two-and-a-half times more likely to live in poverty than white children, and Black children are three times more likely.  Aside from being a moral disgrace, childhood poverty has a high economic cost. Lost productivity, extra health and criminal justice costs, and other consequences of childhood poverty are estimated to cost the U.S. economy close to $500 billion per year, or 3.8% of our Gross Domestic Product.

Like racial equality, gender equality remains elusive. Women are more likely than men to be poor, with 14.7 percent of women in poverty compared to 10.9 percent of men. Even more shocking, 39.8% of all female heads of households are in poverty, making a clear case for stronger investments in programs that help lift women and their children out of poverty. The gender wage gap has changed little since 2007: Women working full time earned 79 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. This gap is even starker for women of color, with black and Hispanic women earning 60 cents and 55 cents, respectively, to every dollar earned by white men.

Supplemental Poverty Measure

This year, for the first time, in addition to releasing data measured against the Official Poverty Measure (OPM), the Census Bureau also released a report on the Supplemental Poverty Measure at the same time. The OPM, which is used to determine eligibility for government benefits and transfers, measures only an individual’s or family’s resources based on their gross before-tax cash income. The SPM is a far more accurate measure of a family’s wealth, and includes income from non-cash benefits like nutritional assistance (such as SNAP or WIC), subsidized housing (like Section 8 Vouchers), home energy assistance (like LIHEAP) and tax credits (like the EITC or CTC) and subtracts expenses including income and social security taxes, childcare or work-related expenses, and out-of-pocket medical care and health insurance costs. Because it accounts for these resources, the SPM offers a far more nuanced and realistic picture of who is living in poverty and the important role that these assistance programs play in alleviating poverty.

To be clear, noncash benefits and tax credits are by no means silver bullets, but they clearly improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable people. For example, the rate of children living in deep poverty (below 50% of the poverty threshold) during 2014 was 5.4% lower measured under the SPM than under the OPM (4.3% instead of 9.7%). The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) alone decreased the 2014 child poverty rate by 3.2%, while refundable tax credits, such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, cut child poverty rates by 7.1%. These statistics show that anti-poverty programs provide some measure of relief to many low-income households.  

Amidst a political environment that often seeks to stigmatize, denigrate, and ultimately weaken safety net programs, the 2014 U.S. Census Poverty Data should galvanize those of us committed to ending poverty. As a strong starting point, we should urge Congress, when taking up tax reform later this year, to make permanent certain key improvements, for low-income workers, in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit that otherwise are likely to expire at the end of 2017. These tax credits are instrumental to keeping a large number of people above the poverty threshold; according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 16 million individuals, including 8 million children, will either be thrust into or fall deeper into poverty in 2018 if the EITC and CTC expire.

The 2014 Census data show that, although progress in eliminating poverty may be stalled, strong policy measures do make a substantial difference. We know what works to advance justice and opportunity for low-income people and communities. Now is the time to make strong investments in proven policy measures to ensure the best possible present and future for all Americans.

A New Season for Domestic Workers

As summer holidays end and we celebrate Labor Day, it’s a good time to remember the workers who care for the things we value most in life: our children, homes, parents, and neighbors. Although their contributions often go unnoticed, domestic workers make it possible for seniors and people with disabilities to live with dignity in their own homes, for busy families to provide safe, reliable care for their children, and for all of us to be more productive.

An estimated 2.5 million domestic workers--including housekeepers, nannies, and personal aides--are hard at work in the United States. As the population ages and more parents of young children work outside of the home, these are among the fastest growing jobs in the economy. Domestic workers play an essential role in the workforce, providing services that free the rest of us to work outside of the home.

Yet, domestic workers remain some of the least protected and most exploited workers in the U.S. Domestic workers are excluded from most worker protections that ensure a fair wage, a safe work environment, and freedom from abuse and exploitation. Consequently, many domestic workers are paid below minimum wage, receive no benefits or overtime pay, have no sick leave, work beyond scheduled hours, are denied meal and rest breaks, and suffer physical and verbal abuse with no possible recourse. The vast majority of domestic workers are women working alone and behind closed doors, making them particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, low pay, and other unfavorable working conditions.

In Illinois, we have an opportunity to right this historic wrong. The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, HB 1288, would ensure domestic workers in Illinois have the right to a minimum wage, to be paid for all work hours, to a day of rest, and to protection from sexual harassment. This important legislation has passed the Illinois House and is expected to come before the Senate on Wednesday, September 9. If you are an Illinois resident, please take action to support HB 1288 by contacting your state senator. Ask them to vote yes on HB 1288.

Domestic workers are securing worker protections in other states, too. New York, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Hawaii have passed similar legislation to protect domestic workers in recent years, and momentum is building around legislative efforts in many other states, including Connecticut and Colorado.

Labor Day is the traditional end of summer. As the season changes, and most of us head back to school and to work, let’s remember the domestic workers who care for our homes and family members. It’s time to ensure that domestic workers enjoy the same workplace protections that the rest of us enjoy.


Three Strikes Against Recidivism

Every year, thousands of Illinoisans are denied the opportunity to work because of past mistakes. These men and women, who have paid their debts to society and turned their lives around, are far too often unable to secure reliable employment, and they--and even the loved ones they care for--are forced to serve what is tantamount to a lifelong sentence of poverty.

That is unacceptable.

Reducing crime requires more than just incarcerating people who make mistakes; it also requires being courageous enough to remove barriers to basic necessities like employment for the hard-working men and women in Illinois who have made mistakes in their past.

Thankfully, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed three bills yesterday that will go a long way towards addressing this problem.

The first bill, HB 3475, expands eligibility for Certificates of Good Conduct and Certificates of Relief from Disability. Individuals who are able to prove with clear and convincing evidence that they have turned their lives around may petition the court to receive one of these certificates, which may help these individuals to obtain employment or licensure.  

HB 3149 allows hard-working men and women with certain offenses who have completed higher education, vocational certification, or a similar program to ask the courts and law enforcement to limit who can look at their old records – through a process called “sealing” – sooner than allowed under current law.

Finally, SB 844 gives individuals with old convictions a chance to petition to limit who can look at their old records three years after they complete their sentence – a year sooner than under current law.

These bills will breathe new opportunity into the lives of over 1 million Illinois residents whose potential was previously squandered for lack of second chances. Now, people who have made mistakes, served their sentence, and been rehabilitated, can move beyond their past and into their future.

I cannot thank Governor Rauner, Governor Rauner’s Public Safety Senior Policy Advisory Samantha Gaddy, our diverse coalition, outspoken community members, and the courageous and committed leaders in the General Assembly enough for recognizing this and doing whatever was in their power to ensure that more hard-working men and women in Illinois can get an opportunity to take care of themselves and their families.

Special thanks are due to Rep. Rita Mayfield and Sen. Kimberly Lightford for sponsoring HB 3475, to Rep. John Cabello and Sen. Terry Link for their work on HB 2149, and Rep. Esther Golar and Sen. James Clayborne for their tireless efforts on SB 844. 

Programs to Address Childhood Trauma Pay Off Over a Lifetime

While academic success is critically important to a student’s lifelong achievement, other factors can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to succeed. Schools have an important role to play in addressing these issues.

Childhood traumaConsiderable research has found that traumatic experiences can influence a child’s academic achievement and wellness. Among the most significant studies is the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, seminal research on the impact of childhood trauma on adult behavior and health. Through physical examinations and surveys of 17,000 people, ACE researchers learned powerful truths about the number of people affected by adverse childhood experiences and the extent to which those experiences resonate throughout people’s lives.

ACE researchers found that traumatic experiences, including abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction, are hugely prevalent, with approximately two-thirds of the study participants reporting at least one. These findings began to make clear the connections between childhood experiences, impairments of social, emotional, and cognitive development, and the adoption of high-risk behaviors that have serious costs to both individuals and society at large. Although the ACE study examined adult behavior, it suggests that we should think more about early intervention for children who experience traumatic stress and work harder to mitigate the resulting poor outcomes.

In 2010, researchers in Spokane, Washington, found that not only was trauma common in kid’s lives, it was the main reason students missed school or had disciplinary problems. In fact, childhood trauma was the second highest predictor of academic failure among the 2,100 children studied. Children in the Spokane study who had three or more adverse experiences had six times the rate of behavioral problems, five times the rate of severe attendance problems, and three times the rate of academic failure than students with no known trauma.  

Children develop many of the social, emotional, and cognitive skills that will shape them through adulthood in the place where they spend much of their day—at school. Providing trauma-informed teaching strategies and other interventions to teachers, counselors, and others school-based professionals can make a big difference in the patterns of behavior that manifest from adverse childhood experiences.

Programs and services to address childhood trauma are being developed on several fronts. At the state level, Massachusetts recently enacted the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which supports preventive programs, as well as services and interventions for children needing more intensive supports. Although the state education department develops the overall framework for addressing child well-being, individual schools are encouraged to create action plans that address their specific needs. The Massachusetts law also focuses on the role the school plays in the community to create a cohesive environment for children and their families.

The federal government has also taken steps to address childhood trauma. For example, the U.S. Department of Education Skills for Success program provides funding that supports programs to develop non-cognitive skills in middle-grade students. Because Congress is currently considering reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now is also a critical opportunity to address support and funding at the federal level for programs to address childhood trauma.

The Shriver Center strongly supports legislative and advocacy efforts that acknowledge and address the impact of trauma on children and communities. With funding and support for programs that are comprehensive and structured, yet flexible enough to address the needs of individual children, all children can be given an opportunity to succeed in school and thrive in later life.

Dana Lieb contributed to this blog post. 


50 Years of Medicaid and Medicare

This blog was co-authored by Janine Hill, Executive Director, EverThrive, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (Ill.–09).

When President Johnson outlined his vision in the 1960s to achieve a Great Society, he mapped out a long “to do” list. Central to his mission to eliminate poverty, end racial disparities, and improve the quality of life of millions of Americans was the creation of the Medicaid and Medicare public health insurance programs. 

Yet, even as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Medicaid program this week, we are reminded of the constant need to protect it.  Republican leaders in Washington, D.C. continue to propose policies aimed at rolling back key elements of the Medicaid program. And in Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner had to be ordered by a federal court last week to continue making Medicaid payments to health care providers so that children can receive the care they need during the state's budget crisis.  

Medicaid has played a critical role for the past five decades in the health and economy of our state. After Medicaid was enacted in 1965, Illinois wisely accepted the federal government’s offer to help finance a public health insurance program for select groups of low-income individuals, including children, persons with disabilities and older adults. By enrolling in the Medicaid program, these individuals gained access to the comprehensive health services, like doctor’s visits and medications, they needed, but otherwise could not afford.

Today, the Illinois Medicaid program continues to operate as a joint venture with costs shared between our state and the federal government.  Illinois has designed our program to meet the health needs of our state’s most vulnerable residents. Low income pregnant women, children, and, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, adults without minor children, are also eligible for Medicaid coverage.  Of the three million Illinoisans currently enrolled in Medicaid, about half are children.  Furthermore, Medicaid provides critical health coverage to more than 15 percent of Illinois older adults and more than a quarter of individuals with disabilities living in our state.

There is no other healthcare program that serves so many Illinois residents throughout their lifetime, when they need it.  Similarly, no other health insurance program provides the same comprehensive—and in some cases—life-saving package of health benefits. Research indicates that the maternity and prenatal services available to eligible pregnant women and infants through Medicaid improve birth outcomes and lower infant mortality rates, offering our youngest residents a healthy start. Children enrolled in Medicaid have access to essential preventive and comprehensive health services, including vaccinations and dental benefits. Medicaid fills important gaps in insurance and Medicare coverage—like adult dental services—helps low-income seniors and people with disabilities with cost-sharing and, nationally, pays for one-quarter of all behavioral health services. Medicaid is the single largest payer of long-term care, providing critical home- and community-based services as well as nursing home coverage—helping seniors and people with disabilities get the care they need.

Medicaid benefits extend far beyond doctors’ visits and medication. Medicaid has been proven to reduce health disparities by providing a pathway to health care for scores of individuals who are at a disproportionate risk of being uninsured. A growing body of research shows that Medicaid has been a powerful factor in closing the achievement gap, as children who are covered by Medicaid are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and have increased future earnings as adults. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that, with these increased earnings, the government will recoup 56 cents of each dollar spent on childhood Medicaid.

As the major payer of health care in Illinois, Medicaid should, and does, attract the close attention of our top decision makers. However, cuts to Medicaid, the backbone of our health care safety net in Illinois, will reverse course on half a century of progress towards a better Illinois. We should reject cuts to Medicaid at the state or federal level. On the 50th anniversary of Medicaid, let’s renew our call to policy makers to enhance and improve, not undermine, Medicaid coverage for Illinoisans. It will not only strengthen millions of families in our state, it will also help build up our economy.

Lessons from the past, planning for the future

A Timeline of Legal ServicesFor over 100 years, visionary lawyers and other leaders have struggled to establish a comprehensive system to deliver some measure of equal justice to all Americans. Throughout this history, those leaders have argued that access to civil legal aid is essential to democracy. As Reginald Heber Smith put it in his seminal 1919 treatise, Justice and the Poor, without equal access to the law, “the system not only robs the poor of their only protection, but it places in the hands of their oppressors the most powerful and ruthless weapon ever invented." 

From humble beginnings in New York in the late 19th century, to a federal program in the 1960s initiated by Sargent Shriver under the auspices of the Office of Economic Opportunity, to establishment of the Legal Services Corporation in the 1970s, civil legal services gained a foothold as an important priority and grew. As evidence of the success of the strategy, civil legal services encountered retrenchment and battles for survival in the 1980s and 1990s.  Programs were forced to adapt their delivery models and develop new funding sources.

The history of the civil legal aid movement is outlined in a recently published Clearinghouse Article by Victor Geminiani, which reviews Earl Johnson Jr.’s three-volume treatise, To Establish Justice for All: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States. Noting the debt we owe the leaders who came before us, Geminiani urges the importance of pursuing systemic advocacy as an important part of delivering equal justice for low-income clients. Although “systemic advocacy is usually the fault line for most political and public support” for legal services, Geminiani argues it is essential for us to use the law to attack basic barriers to fair and equal treatment from governmental institutions and people in power.

As the political environment has evolved, policy development at the state level has taken on more importance for low-income clients and communities. In implementing even the most aggressively “national” federal initiatives, states and localities make dozens of choices involving funding, program design, staffing, and evaluation. Moreover, many important issues affecting people living in poverty, like criminal justice, jobs and workplace issues, domestic or community violence, and most aspects of public education, involve little or no role for the national government.

In recognition of this, the Shriver Center has recently organized the Legal Impact Network, a group of state-based and state-focused law and policy organizations. These organizations are dedicated to working with and for people in poverty and community-based leaders to provide the professional services needed for them to have an effective voice in these state and local policy debates. The organizations have the subject matter and procedural expertise, policy knowledge, and legal skills to identify and evaluate the state policy choices, engage in litigation where necessary, educate allies and the general public, and otherwise drive important systems change. The Legal Impact Network is exploring ways for this work to be more effective and productive when co-strategized and coordinated across multiple states. The Legal Impact Network currently includes organizations from 29 states, which have 37 million of the 49 million Americans living in poverty.  

Geminiani effectively summarizes Earl Johnson’s important history of civil legal services, including the substantial accomplishments of legal services advocates and their clients in the past century. He makes a compelling argument for the continuing expansion and improvement of all aspects of this mission, but especially that advocates should continue to pursue systemic advocacy on behalf of low-income clients and build networks, like the Legal Impact Network, to support that work. 

View a full size version of the timeline here.


Illinois Must Continue to Provide Vital Benefits, Regardless of Failure to Pass State Budget

As Illinois’s budget impasse continues, the failure of Governor Rauner and the state legislature to pass a fair, adequate, and fully funded budget is beginning to have an impact. Late last week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit seeking to clarify what payments the state can and cannot make in the absence of a state budget. At issue, among other things, is the state comptroller’s authority to continue to pay state workers.

Importantly, the state also has an obligation to millions of low-income Illinoisans who are recipients of public benefits or beneficiaries of health care coverage. Earlier in June, the Shriver Center formally reminded state officials of their obligations under existing consent decrees to continue to provide these important services. The agreed order entered yesterday by the court in People v. Munger authorizes and requires the comptroller to continue to provide cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled programs, medical assistance, and child care assistance regardless of the lack of a state budget.

Millions of Illinois residents who would suffer needlessly by losing their income and health care coverage due to the lack of an operational state budget can feel secure tonight that their benefits will continue uninterrupted. Now it’s time for the governor and the state legislature to work together toward a budget that serves all of Illinois and includes the sustainable revenue needed to fund the programs that families need.


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.