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.


 

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