Illinois Continues Progress Toward an Equitable Recovery for All

The Illinois legislature’s first full session since the COVID-19 pandemic continued to build on innovative and proven measures that not only address long-standing disparities but fuel opportunity and improve quality of lives.

As Illinois legislators convened for the 2021 spring legislative session, the Shriver Center on Poverty Law advocated for laws and policies that would reduce harms in the foster and criminal legal systems, support and protect low-wage workers, eliminate racial disparities and discrimination in healthcare, and secure housing stability.

The Illinois legislature’s first full session since the COVID-19 pandemic continued to build on innovative and proven measures that not only address long-standing disparities but fuel opportunity and improve quality of lives.

Illinois emerges from this legislative session with equity driven measures in the fight for economic and racial justice. We thank Illinois legislators for advancing these critical policies.

Here are the gains we achieved during the 2021 Illinois legislative session:

Examining Racial Disparities in the Foster System Through New Task Force

We celebrate the passage of HB 3821 – which will create a Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare Task Force in Illinois. The task force will examine the foster system’s disproportionate impact on Black families and communities. The Shriver Center on Poverty Law will co-chair the task force with our partners Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY). This task force is the first step in examining policies, procedures, and the underlying factors that lead to system involvement. 

Guaranteed Leave for Survivors in the Workplace and Repeal of Racist Welfare Law

The Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) (HB 3582) expands the current law to include all employees who are survivors of violent crimes and employees with family or household members who are survivors. The law provides unpaid, job-guaranteed leave, reasonable accommodations, and protections from discrimination. The bill clarifies what documentation an employer can request from an employee as “proof” of the need for leave and it expands the definition of family member to be inclusive of all our families.

As part of 1996 welfare law changes, Congress banned people with drug felony convictions from receiving SNAP or TANF. This law was a racist mid 90’s war on drugs piece of legislation. In 2014, Illinois repealed the ban for SNAP but not for TANF. HB 88 removes the mid-1990’s ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) receipt for people with drug felony convictions. Now, past involvement with the criminal legal system will not prevent any Illinoisan from receiving TANF.

Eliminating Racial Disparities and Discrimination in Healthcare

Illinois continues its commitment to the expansion of comprehensive health coverage by creating a pathway for low-income Illinois residents aged 55 through 64, with household incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level, regardless of their immigration status. Illinois was the first state in the nation with last year’s budget allocation to provide Medicaid look-alike coverage to seniors aged 65 and older regardless of immigration status. This new expansion is the next step in the goal to provide comprehensive, affordable health coverage to all low-income Illinoisans.

Governor Pritzker signed the Healthcare Omnibus, HB 158 into law on April 27, 2021. The law contains innovative provisions that will eliminate biases and injustices in Illinois’ healthcare system including: creating a Community Health Worker Certification which will train those that have a connection to the community in which they serve; creating an Anti-Racism Commission that will identify and propose statewide policies to eliminate systemic racism and advance equitable solutions; allowing Medicaid reimbursement for Doulas, non-medical professionals who can help reduce the impacts of racism and racial bias in health care settings by providing individually tailored and client centered care and advocacy for pregnant and postpartum people; and requiring implicit bias training for medical professionals. 

There were also various omnibus bills aimed at creating a more equitable health care system in Illinois that address Medicaid (SB 2294), telehealth (HB 3308), and postpartum health (SB 967).

Securing Housing Stability

Housing is fundamental to achieving economic stability, better health outcomes, and thriving families and communities. Governor Pritzker signed HB 2877, the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act into law on May 17, 2021. This law ensures that people with the lowest incomes and most severe housing needs can access emergency rental assistance funds by eliminating unnecessary barriers to assistance for struggling renters and landlords. The law also seals eviction records to protect renters from the permanent consequences of an eviction record and puts protections in place to prohibit tenant screening companies from disseminating the sealed eviction court record. The law also expands the foreclosure moratorium to create stability for renters whose landlords have fallen behind and gives homeowners and small landlords time to work with their lenders to get back on their feet.

Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes

We applaud the Illinois state legislature for passing the FY 2022 state budget. The budget closes $655 million in corporate tax loopholes and provides revenue for public services.

While a permanent expansion of the Illinois Earned Income Credit was not covered in the FY 2022 budget for fiscal year 2022, younger and older workers will receive assistance from the federal government’s extension of the EITC for the next year. We will continue our work to expand the Illinois Earned Income Credit.

Moving Forward

The Shriver Center will continue to fight for missed opportunities which include reducing harms in the criminal legal system by ensuring a felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance does not have lasting consequences that affect people’s lives; supporting low-wage workers with paid sick leave; eliminating discrimination in healthcare by empowering the state to reject unreasonable, inadequate, or discriminatory health insurance rates; and securing housing stability by prohibiting housing discrimination based upon the tenant’s source of income and by reducing chronic homelessness for people on public conviction registries.  

We also must acknowledge that comprehensive, affordable healthcare is still not attainable to all Illinoisans. We urge Illinois legislators to revisit these issues and further build upon an agenda of equity and long-term support for communities across the state.  

The Illinois General Assembly is expected to reconvene later this month and we look forward to them taking up the annual Unemployment Insurance agreed bill that will change policy to prevent low-income people who applied for, received benefits, and used them to pay for basic necessities like food and housing, from having to pay those benefits back months later if the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) discovers an agency mistake in awarding benefits. 

We can’t do this work without you. Here are ways to use your voice to help advance economic and racial justice in Illinois.

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We center parents in advocating for policies and laws that strengthen families.

We are intentional about addressing barriers to healthcare that specific communities experience.

Shelter is not only a basic human need, it is also critical to people’s ability to pursue and attain economic stability.

Our laws and policies must support people by ensuring fair work at a living wage and by providing the income supports families need to be successful.

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