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. 

Tags:

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.

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.